Between 8:00 and 9:15 this morning, the public health clinic of Loulé—which serves a concelho (district or county) with a population of 70,600—had exactly zero physicians working in urgent care.
This is illegal, as the law requires a minimum of two doctors in urgent care at all times, 24/7. But when the Ministry of Health cuts funding to the public clinics and then cuts it again, and then again, it’s hard to pay the doctors—or the nurses, clerks, or even the people who do the cleaning and maintenance. Loulé’s health clinic used to have 8–10 doctors on staff. It now has two, covering both urgent care and scheduled care. And if one of them gets sick or otherwise can’t come to work…well, that’s a problem.
Other staff has been similarly cut. Our public health clinic is literally falling apart. But hey, the report card to Portugal’s austerity overlords looks good! See how much money we’ve cut from our budget?
Yesterday morning the public health clinic was also operating illegally, with only one doctor in urgent care, and not full time at that. Monday was a similar situation.
The agency that operates our clinics responded to this ongoing problem not by sending over an additional doctor or two, but by ordering the only other doctor in the clinic—the one responsible for seeing patients who have made appointments—to work in urgent care instead. This meant rescheduling all of the appointments for all of the patients who were supposed to come in today, yesterday and Monday. They will now have to wait until the end of August.
The President of the Town Hall (think mayor) was alerted to the situation, and got fairly irate about it. He’s been trying for some time to get funding released from the Ministry of Health, and it’s just not happening. So he decided to bring a little publicity to the problem, and ordered his staff to move his office to the front of the public health clinic.
As it turns out, he was in a meeting with the President of the São Brás Town Hall (the neighboring district) when he was alerted to the problem. The São Brás President said, “Hey, we’re having the exact same problem with our clinic, and I can’t get anyone to listen to me, either. Let me go with you.”
So two Town Hall Presidents sat outside the health clinic today, working in their “office” with mobile phones, paperwork, and iPads. It attracted a bunch of attention, with reporters from many newspapers (including one of the nation’s largest) and TV news stations swarming over. I sincerely hope it gives a nice, juicy black eye to the Ministry of Health. This is how you run a third-world nation, not a developed one that was once proud of its public health program.
But that pride, and that quality medical program, was before austerity.
(Original Portuguese article here.)