The union’s alert came after it was revealed by newspaper Diário de Notícias that more than a hundred nurses have been lost to Portugal’s largest hospital, Lisbon’s Santa Maria, since January, forcing the unit to reduce the number of available beds and close a surgery section due to the shortage of human resources.
In comments to Lusa News Agency, SEP spokesperson Guadalupe Simões said that the situation unfolding at the Santa Maria Hospital is also happening in many other Portuguese hospitals, such as Cova da Beira and Porto’s Centro Hospitalar, as well as the Matosinhos local unit.
“We are talking about big hospitals in big cities. At inland hospitals it is even more serious because the supply is even shorter”, she stressed.
She said a number of hospitals “are at pre-breaking point”, and “the Ministry of Health is watching this almost passively.”
And, Ms. Simões believes, the situation will deteriorate even further when nurses are put on individual 35-hour work contracts from 1 July this year.
“All relevant institutions have told the Ministry of Health that more nurses need to be hired due to this current situation, but when we analyse the social balance of hospitals on data available between October 2017 and April this year, most of them have lost nurses, have fewer nurses today than in October 2017, and we are two months away from the entry into force of a law that was negotiated and approved by the Ministry of Finance; yet this is the situation that we are at today. At pre-breaking point, which could rapidly break”, she elaborated.
According to the head of the SEP, this situation cannot be resolved without the hiring of more nurses.
“What is odd and very worrying is that the government, in negotiating the nurses’ passage to 35 hours [work-week], imposed that this measure comes into force on 1 July, contrary to our requirement precisely that a plan was made to hire more nurses according to needs during these first six months of the year” Guadalupe Simões said, explaining a series of meetings were scheduled with the government, but never fulfilled.
According to Diário de Notícias, the overall number of nurses is far below that which is necessary, and since the beginning of the year alone more than one hundred professionals have left Lisbon’s Centro Hospitalar Lisboa Norte, which incorporates the Santa Maria unit, but not even half of that number has since been hired to compensate for the resulting vacancies.
The National Nurses Board has also waged in on the debate, claiming the SNS (national health system) does not provide the country’s nurses with the appropriate working conditions.
Speaking to the press during a protest staged by nurses in Lisbon on Saturday, 19 May, Ana Rita Cavaco, president of the Nurses Board, said “the SNS does not have the number of nurses it should have to protect people’s lives. The Ministry of Health is swallowed up by the Finance Ministry and nurses are not able to perform their duties.”
During the protest, health professionals demanded better working conditions, career progression, and pay rises.
Organisers said promises made by the government last October following strike threats have not been seen through, and nursing is still a profession without career progression or recognition.
The country’s nurses have also staged a series of strikes to bring their point across, the last of which was a 48 hour bout of national action in March, which brought some services to a standstill.
Commenting on news that the Garcia da Horta Hospital in Almada has let dozens of nurses go on temporary/replacement contracts, replacing them with professionals on indefinite term contracts, Ana Rita Cavaco said: “We all know the consequences of a lack of nurses, one of which includes an increase in mortality rates within hospitals.”