Since the start of the year, the Health Regulatory Authority (ERS) has received 1,237 complaints about health centers, roughly phone service constraints and prior confirmation of schedules. For several months, across the country, users have complained of not being able to make an appointment or renew their prescriptions because health centers do not answer the phone or take too long to respond to e-mails. Since mid-March, it is recommended that patients do not come in person to the health units and make an appointment in advance.
According to this Sunday’s edition of Jornal de Notícias, the complaints reaching the ERS concern the health centers of the five regional health administrations (North, Center, Lisbon and Tagus Valley, Alentejo and Algarve), which means that the problem is cross-cutting.
The same newspaper says that the solution that many users find to have an answer is to turn to the private service or pharmacies. And this too in the emergency room of the São João hospital, in Porto, arrive patients unable to solve their problems in health centers.
Earlier this month, the emergency coordinator at São João hospital told the PUBLIC that the number of visits, over 400, was already approaching the daily average before the pandemic. Adding all regions of the country, in August, non-priority patients in hospital emergency rooms accounted for 45% of the total, while in 2019 they were on average around 42%.
Queues at the door
At the end of July, many patients were already reporting the difficulties of being able to be seen by telephone by health centers. Some have complained that they have made dozens of phone calls without ever having someone to answer them. And even email responses take time. At that time, the Ordem dos Médicos had three million face-to-face consultations that had not been carried out.
And the situation has not improved. Earlier this month, during an analysis of data from the SNS portal, it was possible to conclude that the majority of consultations carried out by health centers are not done in person. At that time, to the PUBLIC, the President of the Portuguese Association of General and Family Medicine, Rui Nogueira, and the President of the National Association of Family Health Units, expressed concern about the situation and warned against the need for health centers to be able to do more in-person consultations.
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Regional differences were also visible, with the North registering many more non-face-to-face consultations and the Algarve managing to have, albeit only a small margin, more face-to-face consultations than remotely .
But without phone support and email response, many users cannot find another solution if they do not go to health centers, where they wait at the door for treatment. An old problem in many health centers, which has worsened with the pandemic.
The recommendation for this winter is that people do not go to health centers without an appointment, in order to avoid an increased risk of contagion by infection. The Ministry of Health announced the reformulation of telephone exchanges and the distribution of 30,000 mobile phones and 30,000 landlines to health centers.