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The government is moving away from the simple model of hiring foreign doctors

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If the government views foreign labor in education as a way to overcome the teacher shortage, the vision is different in health. The ministry led by Ana Paula Martins is not moving forward, at the moment, with the program to facilitate the employment of foreign doctors announced by the Socialist Party last year. A health emergency plan was recently launched, but without any mention of strengthening it with migrant professionals.

As for DN, the governor's office stated that it “does not rule out” hiring, but “remembers” the rules of the doctors' union. “We remember, however, that entry into the medical profession and the private medical profession requires the acquisition of a specialized degree, which, although not obtained in the context of medical training, falls within the scope of the responsibilities of the Medical Association.”

The previous government had intended to create a special system for recognizing doctors for employment in the National Health System (SNS). This measure was approved by the Council of Ministers in August last year and was quickly approved by President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, who considered it an “absolute priority”, but in its issuance highlighted doubts about “compatibility with the competences of the Medical Association”. In addition to the issue of language.

The government's goal was to employ 300 specialists to strengthen the National Health Service and the main requirement was that the professional had at least five years in this activity. The conditions included a 40-hour work contract per week, with the ability to “focus on four days,” but with “the possibility of overtime.” The monthly wage was a total of €2,863.21 for 14 months and six euros meal allowance per day worked.

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In addition, they will receive a home in the geographical area of ​​operations. The recruitment was for the regions of Lisbon, Vale do Tejo, Alentejo and the Algarve, which are considered to have the greatest need for professionals. The contracts were expected to last for three years, with exclusive dedication to the public health system.

At the time, the measure drew criticism from the Independent Doctors Association. The then Secretary-General, Jorge Roque Cunha, considered it “another sign that the government does not want to invest in Portuguese doctors.” The Doctors Syndicate also said that the solution to the SNS problem would not be to employ foreign doctors.

At the time, President Carlos Cortés said it was necessary to “invest first in doctors trained in Portugal”, although he said he was not opposed to employing foreigners, as long as they had “proper training”. When the document was published, with criticism in Portugal and widespread publicity in Brazilian medical circles, many professionals applied for vacant positions.

One of them was 66-year-old Brazilian Marcelo Cotto. He is a urologist with Portuguese citizenship, and plans to continue practicing medicine in Portugal, where he owns a house with his wife, who is also a doctor. They are both retired in Brazil, but continue to practice their profession. Because he met the requirements and believed he had the desired profile at the time, he applied.

At that time, he felt that it would be a great opportunity and that he would have no difficulty hiring him. Couto sent all the mandatory documents, but so far he has not received any response, neither from the current nor the previous government, although he has requested answers via several emails.

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He told DN that he felt “disappointed at not being able to be useful in the final phase of my career, when I could have been useful in the city I chose to live in after retirement.” DN questioned Manuel Pizarro, the Minister of Health at the time, about why the candidates received no response. He explains: “The government fell, we were in power, and we were unable to move forward,” without providing details.

The decision to continue with the proposal to reinforce the SNS with foreign doctors will be the decision of the new government, the former government official said. For DN, the Ministry of Health highlighted that “the main objective guiding the government’s actions” is to “focus on improving access to social networking services and strengthening their responsiveness.”

The topic of hiring foreign professionals is not new. Nearly 20 years ago, in 2005, the government of José Socrates announced its intention to publish advertisements abroad to attract doctors, due to the shortage of doctors in the country. The Doctors Guild reacted immediately. “Although there is no objection to the employment of doctors abroad as long as current legislation and the statute of the Doctors Syndicate are adhered to, and despite doubts about the success of this measure, the Doctors Syndicate fears that they are not the most qualified doctors and are willing to accept immigration to Portugal.”

Currently, doctors from outside the EU who intend to practice in Portugal face a long bureaucratic journey to get to work. The latest survey conducted by the Migration Observatory highlighted that, as of 2022, there are approximately 2,400 foreign doctors and nurses in the SNS, 24.9% of whom are professionals from Brazil.

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