The death of a pregnant woman causes outrage in the Portuguese health service affected by the crisis

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The death of a pregnant woman who was unable to receive treatment at Lisbon’s main hospital due to lack of capacity has been met with outrage in Portugal, where a months-long health crisis has shut down emergency services across the country and put maternity care under extreme pressure. .

The 34-year-old woman was admitted to the Santa Maria de Lisboa hospital on August 23 with respiratory problems and high blood pressure. Due to lack of space in the neonatal service, she was transferred to another hospital, but she died of a heart attack in the ambulance.

Her baby, born at 30 weeks and weighing 772 g (1 lb 11 oz), survived.

The Minister of Health, Marta Temido, in office since 2018 and throughout the Covid pandemic, resigned this week after the case came to light. She said in a brief statement sent to The Guardian that she “was no longer fit to remain in office”. Prime Minister António Costa said the woman’s death was “the straw that broke the camel’s back” for Feared.

Marta Temido said that ‘she no longer had the conditions to remain in office.’ Photo: Julien Warnand/EPA

The Santa Maria hospital said the patient had been stabilized and described transfers between regional hospitals as a “frequent procedure.” She told CNN that the woman’s death was “neither foreseeable nor expected in this situation.”

An investigation has been opened. The Government’s General Inspection of Health Activities (IGAS) is also examining the death of a baby on June 9 in Caldas da Rainha, north of Lisbon, after there were no obstetricians to attend the mother when she went into labor. . On August 22, another pregnant woman had to be transferred twice between hospitals, traveling a total of 95 miles (150 km) while she was in labor.

Newspaper front pages have called Portugal’s previously highly rated national health service (SNS) the “national disease service” and the health ministry the “ministry of simulation” after lockdowns left thousands homeless. practically free access to care in the public health system.

The crisis is the result of decades of structural problems including low wages, outdated equipment and inefficient bureaucracy, said Dr. Gustavo Tato Borges, president of the National Association of Public Health Physicians.

Salaries have not changed since 2009. A specialist doctor has a monthly starting salary of €1,853 (£1,603) and a nurse €1,200. “There is no lack of doctors to cover the needs of the SNS, but rather there is a lack of doctors willing to work in the SNS,” said Borges. “The SNS does not have the capacity to attract doctors and ensure their permanence for a long time.”

Although the number of doctors in Portugal has almost doubled in the last 20 years, almost half work in the private sector. It is estimated that a third of the population has health insurance, almost double in the last 16 years, since waiting times have increased in the public health system.

Infant mortality is at its highest rate since 2018 and the third highest in the last decade. Portugal has an excess mortality rate of 23.9%, four times higher than the EU average.

The Ministry of Health has announced a “deep” investigation into the mortality rate.

Before resigning, Temido had announced 1,600 vacancies for medical specialists in areas including gynecology, obstetrics and public health, and approved a new model for the SNS, with a different management structure, more decision autonomy for hospitals and measures to increase the productivity.

However, health workers say that the new model, as well as the resignation of the minister, fail to solve the structural problems that undermine the public health system.

Costa has said there will be no change in health policies and said Feared’s replacement would be purely a change in “personality, energy or style.”

“Those who want a change in policies will have to topple the government,” the prime minister said on Tuesday.

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