Portugal’s maternity units struggle with shortage of doctors

Several Portuguese hospitals have been forced to temporarily close their emergency maternity units or operate with limited personnel due to a dearth of obstetricians, prompting concerns about women’s safety.

The fundamental problem of a long-running doctor shortage in Portugal has been exacerbated by bank holidays and the proliferation of COVID-19 among medical employees.

“We are in a state of rupture, and (further) service closures are impending if a solution is not found fast,” Carlos Cortes, a regional head of regulating group Doctors’ Order, told news agency.

The patient advocacy group OVO has warned that the shortages might lead to “serious scenarios” such as neglect. On Tuesday, public prosecutors launched an investigation after a woman died while giving birth at a hospital with staffing shortages.

The Amadora-Sintra in Lisbon, one of the country’s largest hospitals, sent patients to other hospitals for 12 hours until 8 a.m. on Thursday.

Hospital facilities in Montijo and Portalegre, a town near the Spanish border, were also closed, and other national health service (SNS) emergency maternity units are set to close on Friday and during the weekend.

The government unveiled a contingency plan on Wednesday, which includes posting 1,639 specialist doctor openings. However, Health Minister Marta Temido confessed that the harsh working conditions at SNS deter potential recruits.

Thousands of Portuguese physicians and nurses have left the country in search of higher income and opportunities in wealthy countries, similar to what has happened in neighboring Spain.

According to the Doctors’ Order, over half of all obstetricians in Portugal work in the private sector or abroad, and nearly half of those working in public hospitals are over 55, allowing them to legally decline emergency services employment.

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