A study commissioned by the Francisco Manuel dos Santos Foundation and which was published on Thursday, has found that the country’s largest hospital, the Santa Maria in Lisbon, is being undermined by a web of interests and loyalties to political parties, the freemasonry and the Roman Catholic Church institution Opus Dei. It also contends that external influences probably stretch beyond this hospital.
The damning study reads that “despite improvements recorded since 2005”, the hospital “continues to be affected by strong conflicts of interest and acts in grey areas which shape as corruption.”
The report, compiled by researcher Sónia Pires, adds that “Free Masons, Opus Dei and links to political parties are three external realities which intersect the sphere of the hospital.”
Opus Dei has since issued a statement calling on Sónia Pires to retract claims that they controlled and exercised influence on the hospital and have demanded an investigation into these allegations.
The General Health Inspectorate has also since revealed it will be launching its own investigation into these controversial findings.
The Socialist and Communist parties are singled out as exerting the most influence at the hospital, but neither party has yet responded to this allegation.
Former Santa Maria Hospital Director Miguel Oliveira e Silva, who resigned in February after denouncing illegalities in the purchase of medical items, said he found it strange that he had not been consulted, but added that he was not in the least surprised by the conclusions reached in the study.
Research into the study ‘Values, Institutional Quality and Development in Portugal’ was conducted between 2012 and 2013 and further states that “powerful groups condition the functioning of services when it comes to human resources and the acquisition of medical material.”
But Sónia Pires explains the situation was far worse a decade ago and has seen considerable improvements in recent years.
“The situation was out of control. There were no records of the use of equipment and thefts were a regular occurrence – both by doctors and other staff who took from the hospital warehouse whatever they wanted in order to stock their own private clinics.”
In comments to TSF radio, Sónia Pires further claims that the closure of the hospital was considered.
The nomination of a new chairman to lead the hospital resulted in him and his family being awarded police escorts following a series of death threats, she further reveals.
“There have been improvements”, the report explains, but disclosed that “small acts of corruption continue to mar the functioning of the unit such as getting people to jump the waiting list queue or doctors sending patients to private laboratories in which they have an interest.”
The account of affairs at the hospital also says that promotions are not necessarily based on merit, and the process of moving up the medical career is shrouded in doubt.
But despite what is being perceived as an overall scathing report, the “arduous work of hospital staff under austerity should be commended, especially with regards to dealing with patients.”
In addition to Sónia Pires, a number of researchers were involved in compiling the study, which was coordinated by Margarida Marques, a professor at Lisbon’s Nova University and Princeton University Professor Alejandro Portes.
Despite the involvement of top academics, the fact that only 29 respondents agreed to participate in the study has raised some question marks as to whether it is a true and a complete reflection of the hospital’s functioning.