Doctor Shortage Pushes Portugal’s Maternity Units to the Brink

LISBON (Reuters) – A shortage of obstetricians has forced several Portuguese hospitals to temporarily shut their emergency maternity units or operate with reduced staff, raising fears for women’s safety.

Bank holidays and the spread of COVID-19 among medical workers have aggravated the structural problem of a long-running shortage of doctors in Portugal.

“We are in a situation of rupture and, if a solution is not found quickly, (more) services closures are imminent,” Carlos Cortes, a regional head of regulatory body Doctors’ Order, told Lusa news agency.

Patient advocacy group OVO warned “serious situations” such as neglect could arise from the shortages. Public prosecutors opened an inquiry on Tuesday after a woman lost her baby at a hospital affected by staff shortages.

One of the country’s biggest hospitals, the Amadora-Sintra in Lisbon, referred patients to other hospitals for 12 hours until 8 a.m. on Thursday.

Hospital units in Montijo and Portalegre, a municipality near the Spanish border, also saw closures and further emergency maternity units of the national health service (SNS) are planning to shut on Friday and over the weekend.

The government on Wednesday announced a contingency plan that included advertising 1,639 vacancies for speciality doctors. Health Minister Marta Temido admitted however that potential applicants are put off by SNS’ tough working conditions.

As in other countries such as neighbouring Spain, thousands of Portuguese doctors and nurses have left the country seeking better pay and prospects in wealthier nations.

According to the Doctors’ Order, around 50% of Portuguese obstetricians work in the private sector or abroad and nearly half of those working in public hospitals are aged over 55, meaning they can legally refuse emergency services work.

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