Portuguese doctors strike over new work contract

Only emergency and life-saving procedures carried out as medics protest part-privatization of sector

Portuguese doctors across the country began a two-day strike on Wednesday to protest proposals to introduce a new type of work contract that they claim will “dismantle the public health system.”

Service at the country’s hospital and healthcare centers was restricted to a minimum, with doctors attending to already hospitalized patients and emergencies, as well as providing chemotheraphy treatment. Of the 35 consultants at San José de Lisboa hospital only four turned up for work, state broadcaster RTP reported.

Doctors decided to lay down their stethoscopes in defiance of plans by Health Minister Paulo Macedo to introduce a contract for new doctors under which they would be hired by an intermediary company that would place them in health centers and under which they would be paid according to the numbers of hours they work.

Doctors are also up in arms about the introduction of a new salary scale and working hours. Portugal has embarked on an overhaul of its healthcare system as part of a draconian austerity drive, imposed in exchange for a 78-billion-euro bailout from the IMF and the European Union. As part of the changes introduced, Portuguese patients must now pay a consultation fee of 20 euros at emergency service centers.

Jorge Roque da Cunha, the secretary general of the SIM doctors’ union, claimed the public supports the strike because they are aware that it is also a “fight in their interests.”

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