Cuts to emergency services and health centres has been met with outrage by medical associations and the public who have staged vigils and protests to show their opposition
The most recent focus of anger was the Hospital dos Covões in the municipality of Coimbra in the centre of the country, whose emergency health centre has been closed down from eight in the evening until nine in the morning.
Professional organizations of doctors and nurses, unions and the Movement of Users of Public Services (MUSP) protested against the decision, which is part of public spending cuts adopted by the Portuguese government to comply with the demands of foreign lenders.
The ‘reorganization of health services’ is one of the objectives under the agreement reached by the Portuguese authorities with the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in exchange for a ‘bailout’ in which the country committed to ‘improve efficiency’ of the public health system. The Government has also increased health service charges, which means visits to the doctor have become even more expensive in a country where the State and the user share costs.
The discontent in Coimbra led to a night vigil over the weekend at the gates of Covões Hospital that was attended by dozens of people, many with candles. A campaign has also been launched to collect signatures calling for a parliamentary debate.
‘They are limiting access to healthcare services. The consequences are particularly serious for those living in municipalities where public transportation is scarce or nonexistent, and in many cases people are forced to travel long distances,’ said Carlos Braga, spokesman for the Movement of Users of Public Services (MUSP).
Braga recalled that cases similar to Coimbra have been reported in different parts of the country, including the capital, Lisbon, where the Hospital Curry Cabral emergency department and Alfredo da Costa Maternity ward were closed.
In mid April, the MUSP organized demonstrations against cuts to health in several cities that were attended by thousands demanding ‘the rights of citizens’ and rejecting a policy based on costs alone
‘The situation is serious for groups such as the chronically ill, for example, who frequently need emergency health centres and this decision affects their lives,” said Braga. He also complained that, despite certain exemptions based on income and age, the increases in user charges were hindering access to health services for the less well off.