By Chris King •
Updated: 29 Oct 2023 • 19:19
Image of surgeons performing an operation.
THE Portuguese government finally yielded to the demands of the unions of doctors this Sunday, October 29, and agreed to restore the 35-hour working week for doctors.
In a document sent by the Government – which the Lusa news agency had access – the Ministry of Health pointed out that the reduction of the working hours of doctors and the number of hours of activity in the emergency service: ‘cannot mean the decrease of access to health care and the response capacity of the National Health Service (NHS)‘.
If the proposal is accepted then the measure will immediately cover doctors working in emergency services and would subsequently be gradually applied to all others.
‘There is a commitment of both parties to this matter, which is an essential condition for these amendments to be considered’, stated Manuel Pizarro’s department, as reported by sicnoticias.pt.
In the counter-proposal sent to the unions, the government undertook to enshrine the 35-hour working week for doctors in the emergency departments.
This would eventually apply to doctors in other departments, but it emphasised that: ‘due compensatory rest cannot imply that weekly working hours are not complied with, otherwise there will be a loss of overall working hours that is incompatible with the functioning of the departments’.
The Ministry of Health also admitted to indexing the ‘progressive reduction’ from 18 to 12 hours a week in the emergency service. This was provided there was a ‘decrease in the dependence of the NHS on the performance of work in overtime and in service regime’, it insisted.
Through the creation of Integrated Responsibility Centres, the reorganisation of the emergency services and teams dedicated to emergencies in the various hospitals of the country is another of the government’s proposals.
It also aims to create conditions for the extension of the opening hours of the Family Health Units (FHU) and: ‘enable the access of users in situations of non-urgent acute illness and reducing the need for recourse to hospital emergency services’.
‘We hope to be able to evolve, together, in the direction of an agreement that, constituting an appreciation of the medical profession and improvement of the working conditions of clinical teams, allows, at the same time, to improve the responsiveness of the NHS. That’s what the Portuguese demand of us!’, added the Ministry.
After an inconclusive meeting last Friday 27, the Government is currently holding a new round of negotiations with the National Federation of Doctors (FNAM) and the Independent Union of Doctors (SIM).
Both unions presented a negotiating counter-proposal to the government in which they required the replacement of the weekly schedule of 35 hours for all doctors who so desire it and the 12 hours of work in the Emergency Department, as well as a cross-sectional salary increase of 30 per cent.
Negotiations between the Ministry of Health, SIM and FNAM began in 2022. However, a lack of agreement only served to aggravate the doctors’ struggle.
There have been subsequent strikes and declarations of refusal to work overtime beyond the mandatory 150 hours per year. This led to constraints and the closure of emergency services in hospitals across the country.
As a result, Fernando Araújo, the executive director of the NHS, warned that if doctors did not reach an agreement with the government, November could be the worst month in 44 years of the NHS.
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Originally from Wales, Chris spent years on the Costa del Sol before moving to the Algarve where he is a web reporter for The Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news.
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