Portuguese doctors are demanding better pay and working conditions. Like many healthcare workers in Europe, they are concerned about the public sector.
Catia Martins, a family doctor in Porto says that if she had fewer patients, she could treat them better.
She’s one of many doctors and union members from Portugal who showed up outside a conference hosted by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Portuguese government to remind the health ministry of their concerns about “chaos” in the health system.
The demands include an increase in wages, limits to the amount of overtime they have to do, and bringing an 18-hour emergency shift down to 12 hours.
“We would like to have fewer patients in our lists because we would have more time to be with them and care for them and that is also one of the things we are fighting for,” Martins told Euronews Next.
“Our wages are not actualised for 10 years and because of that we are one of the worst paid doctors in Europe and that’s why we are here to fight for better working conditions.”
There have already been eight strike days over the course of 2023, according to the medical doctors’ union. They are planning two strike days and a large protest in November.
“The Portuguese NHS (National Health Service) is in a big chaos nowadays. We have lack of family doctors, so we have 1.6 million people without a family doctor… We also have problems in gynaecology and obstetrics emergency rooms.
The services are shutting down every day,” Joana Bordalo e Sá, the National Federation of Doctors (FNAM) union president, told Euronews Next.
She said that many of her colleagues were moving from the public sector to the private sector or to other countries.
“There’s a big exodus. The medical doctors in Portugal are emigrating to other countries in Europe or the rest of the world where they can get better paid. But it’s not just a question of salaries, it’s a question of working conditions”.
UK doctors plan ‘full walkout’
The union’s demands resemble those of other European countries, such as the United Kingdom and France where doctors have protested low wages and demanded more support from governments.
Doctors in the UK will again go on strike this month over the situation in the country’s NHS.
On 20 September, junior doctors and consultants will have reduced staffing, while on the two following days there will be a “full walkout” from junior doctors.
Their reasons include a “crippling cost-of-living crisis, burnout, and well below inflation pay”.
They argue that pay has declined since 2008 and, like Portuguese doctors, are arguing that there needs to be fair wages.
In France, meanwhile, the government is trying to solve a doctor shortage by encouraging people to move to underserved areas amid a lack of general practitioners and specialists.
‘Trying to make an agreement with trade unions’
The Portuguese government is still in negotiations with the unions and believes the situation will improve.
“We are trying to make an agreement with trade unions. Of course it’s never an easy issue and we are trying to promote new ways of organisation,” Manuel Pizarro, the Portuguese health minister, told Euronews Next.
“In primary healthcare system, we have already experimented with the system. We have family health units where the salary of the professionals is associated with the results, obtaining gains of health for people,” he added, stating that this would soon extend throughout the country.
“We think that it will be a way of solving the capability of attracting… new medical doctors to the system,” Pizarro added.
The unions hope that the programme will not continue and don’t see it as something that will help the doctor shortage.
They delivered a letter to the WHO’s regional director for Europe, who listened to their concerns outside the conference.
Speaking to Euronews Next, Dr Hans Kluge said that “we need to think of a new way of organising healthcare,” including moving to multidisciplinary practices and cutting the administrative burden on doctors.
He also said countries needed to plan better as many general practitioners (GPs) in Europe reach retirement age
“There has to be a societal appreciation of how important this profession is,” he added.