The Health situation – the necessary response to the epidemic

Statement by Jerónimo de Sousa, General Secretary, Press conference

A year after the outbreak of the epidemic in Portugal, and despite the advances in science at the service of health, we continue to face a time of great complexities and uncertainties.

The health situation has worsened significantly with a negative evolution of the epidemic, which is putting the National Health Service and its professionals under enormous pressure, with consequences in the very significant increase in hospitalisations, particularly in Intensive Care Units.

An evolution all the more worrying when a very wide range of problems affect the most vulnerable strata and sectors of the population, namely the elderly, the chronically ill and people with disabilities, or when there is a significant increase in unemployment, the closure of thousands of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises and the increase in poverty and social exclusion.

At the economic level, the difficulties that already hit thousands of workers and Micro, Small and Medium Entrepreneurs at the end of 2020, particularly in sectors more penalised by the impacts of the epidemic, are even enhanced by the new limitations on activity resulting from the new lockdowns.

The scale of the problems requires responses and mobilisation of resources. It is not acceptable that at a time when more public investment, more support to families and the revitalisation of job-generating economic activity is required, it is known that the budgetary execution of 2020, in terms of spending, was 2.4 billion euros below the foreseen.

The declaration of the State of Emergency with the worsening of restrictive measures is not the solution.
In view of the reality experienced in the country, the need for exceptional measures to protect health and life is obvious. But it is not acceptable for them to become a weapon to trample workers’ rights and guarantees and use them to close down companies that are needed for the national economy and to dismiss thousands of workers.

The national situation and the prospect of its evolution requires that the conditions for the development of economic, social, cultural and sporting activities are ensured, guaranteeing the conditions of prevention and protection of public health.

From the outset, an unrelenting fight against the epidemic, paying particular attention to measures in terms of health and strengthening of the National Health Service. Measures that must, first, tackle three emergency situations: hiring more professionals; ensuring the capacity for hospitalisation and response in intensive care, with the opening of an additional 200 beds by mid-February; and the mobilisation of all existing resources in the public sphere, including buildings and equipment available in the Armed Forces; and also the reinforcement of the Public Health structure with the recruitment of the 500 lacking professionals, a decisive factor in breaking the infection chains.

The hiring of lacking professionals with three-fold measures: to encourage the return to Portugal of some of the more than 20,000 Portuguese doctors and nurses, guaranteeing job security, valorisation of wages and access to a fair and attractive career.

And also hiring foreign doctors, after confirming their skills.

And, as the PCP has been proposing for a long time, by creating conditions for the many health professionals who, in a situation of retirement, are ready to temporarily return to work in the NHS facilities.

In terms of social support, it is absolutely essential that the measures approved and set down in the State Budget are put into practice, particularly those directed at sectors that are already severely affected by the epidemic and previous impacts, such as tourism, restaurants, hotels and culture.

Workers under lay-off must be guaranteed 100% support, as well as support for artists and other cultural workers.

With the closure of schools and the option of distance learning, it is essential to guarantee support to parents who will have to assist their children at home, guaranteeing a 100% salary and not 66.6% as the government has decided, and covering children up to the age of 16, not 12 as defined. The same should apply to one of the spouses, when one of them is teleworking.

The situation in the nursing homes requires, as the PCP warned in the Assembly of the Republic in the early days of March, exceptional and urgent measures both in terms of health and in terms of social response, guaranteeing the operating conditions of nursing homes that ensure the well- being and health of the elderly.

In many of the situations described, the answer is to implement the measures set down in the 2021 State Budget and others that are essential to ensure health protection, provide education on protection and ensure the means of social and economic support that are absolutely necessary.

The government has at its disposal all the legal instruments to implement the mobilisation and the commandeering of the necessary means to ensure these objectives, including the means of the private sector where and when this need is found, always under the direction of the NHS.

In this context, vaccination is an important means of combating the virus and preserving lives. Access to vaccination must be seen as an essential objective, not subject to rationing policies and the interests of large multinational pharmaceutical companies, namely American, who want to have a monopoly of the business.

Putting Portugal solely dependent on the European Union is, as evidenced, becoming a conditioning factor for rapid access and in accordance with the country’s needs.

It is imperative to define clearly the criteria for access to vaccination, investigating and fighting abuses and illicit uses firmly. And the government must decisively assume the sovereign decision to purchase vaccines in other countries, thus guaranteeing the quickest universality of access to vaccination by the Portuguese.

There is no justification for the Portuguese government to be conditioned to purchase vaccines outside the framework of companies already approved by the European Union and bound to its limited contingents.

Portugal cannot accept that the selfish interests of these large pharmaceutical companies prevail over the right to health and life of the population.

The public funding of around 11 billion euros and the contribution of thousands of doctors, scientists and nurses and patients from all over the world, were the key to this scientific feat, which allowed, in less than a year, to discover the vaccine, and it cannot be used by pharmaceutical companies to increase their profits and therefore it must be considered a global public asset accessible to all.

And to all Portuguese people who have felt the difficulties that this situation imposes on their living conditions, jobs and wages, isolation or loneliness, we would also like to leave a word of hope and confidence. We know that the solution to the health problem has heavy consequences and is already causing huge difficulties for thousands of people and families. The PCP will continue to intervene so that these problems are addressed and overcome with the corresponding priority social measures.

Source: PCP via Solidnet