In Portugal at the moment, the national health system has a lot of inefficiencies that, for many, make it difficult to rely on solely. According to Dr. Paulo Sousa of the IPBN member company Hospital Particular do Algarve (HPA), half of the Portuguese population has private health coverage at one point in their lives while doctors are more and more likely to seek employment with private hospitals. “I moved 10 years ago into the private system because of the general inability to get things done. The inefficiencies mostly lie in how patients are treated because sometimes, access can be complicated.” Dr. Sousa says.
In advance of Dr. Sousa's upcoming conversation on Healthcare in the Algarve with the IPBN, we thought it best to set the stage with information on the advantages of the private health system, the drawbacks to public care, and keeping patients in the Algarve, and Portugal at large, happy, healthy, and protected.
Broadly speaking, long waiting lists for treatments, limitations in getting exams completed, and non-urgent emergency room visits are the three main areas where Sousa believes the public health system in Portugal needs to step up its game. He gives the example, “If you have cancer and need treatment, you’ll be waiting one month to get your evaluations back. If you need to do a treatment that’s out of the ordinary, you’ll be waiting another one to two months to get clearance from the hospital administration.”
These oftentimes maddening back-and-forths are partially what keeps patients eyeing private care, while the other half is reaping the benefits of the national system due to its very low cost. Co-pays for normal appointments with the neighborhood health centers (centros de saude) or public hospitals max out at 20€, while a procedure would cost around 50€. Dr. Sousa admitted this is a very low cost, but warned that for the system to survive, the co-pays should be higher. “If you have normal Portuguese private insurance, you’ll pay anywhere from 100 - 150€ a month per person, and if you need to have an appendix removed, say, you’ll pay around 300€ co-pay. The cost being considerably higher ensures fast action, little to no waiting, and personalized, top-of-the-line care in most cases.
When it comes to the Algarve, most residents rely on the private system. Dr. Sousa told the IPBN that the HPA alone performs 13,000 surgeries a year at its three locations in the region while the two private hospitals in the Algarve can only manage 9,000 annually, based on the latest figures. “We used to do about 3,000 surgeries for the public health system to alleviate the burden up until three years ago. We had to stop because they stopped paying us. Now, the waiting list is even worse than it was two years ago because of the pandemic. No one knows how long it is — they’ve stopped counting.”
The pandemic has indeed brought an incredible amount of stress to health systems both public and private, but the HPA has managed to keep its head above water. The COVID-19 numbers are looking quite good in the Algarve with vaccination targets being set and achieved relatively on time, sources say. “The hospitals are not crowded — there are low admission numbers at the moment. Even in the toughest month (January, 2021) no hospitals were close to what they were like in Lisbon and Porto. Our ICU always had backups. There was always the ability to deal with patients in the Algarve — even in the public system.” Dr. Sousa says.
Getting the staff prepared and safeguarded against COVID-19 has been a top priority at the HPA along with the safety and wellbeing of their patients. So far, more than 500 employees have been vaccinated and the rest are expected to be vaccinated by the end of the month. There are about 800 doctors working with the HPA in the Algarve and Madeira, all of whom work with a carefully integrated system to give patients access to full and transparent coverage. Patients have 24/7 access to their medical records and information on their treatments, health situation, and more. Since the HPA offers a total range of procedures from heart surgeries to brain surgeries and from cosmetic surgery to dentistry, having your information all in one place at the click of a button — in English — is a welcomed deviation from the public system.
In terms of vaccinations, Dr. Sousa told the IPBN that private hospitals in Portugal are not allowed to administer the COVID-19 vaccine at the moment. Only the public system has the green light to do so. Despite the reduced capacity due to this stipulation, in two months, Portugal expects to have about 60% of the entire population vaccinated by the vaccine task force. Dr. Sousa says, “Our numbers will keep going down, allowing us to progressively open up our economy again. Finally!”
Join Dr. Sousa on May 11th at the online Healthcare in the Algarve event to hear more about these topics, and ask direct questions to help you navigate the healthcare system here in Portugal.