Portuguese death rate rise linked to pain of austerity programme

Thursday, March 22, 2012
By Paul Martin

Portugal’s health service is being forced into sweeping cuts as last May’s EU/IMF bailout terms begin to bite

Giles Tremlett
GuardianUK

Maria Isabel Martins got up at 5am to catch a bus from the eastern Portuguese country town of Portalegre to see a consultant in Lisbon about her diabetes. It is a 130-mile journey that takes three hours. It used to be free, but not any more.

“This is shameful. Now each visit costs me €44 (£36) and I have to come back in a few weeks,” the 53-year-old said, wheezing as she left the consultant’s surgery at the Santa Maria hospital.

There is a chart on the wall beside a machine that accepts credit cards. It shows the charges for seeing a doctor in one of western Europe’s poorest countries, where opposition politicians blame budget cuts for a thousand extra deaths in February, 20% more than usual.

“They hiked the fees in January,” said the receptionist, pointing to the new charges for everything from jabs and ear washes to having stitches removed. “Now a visit to the emergency room costs €20 instead of €9. A consultant costs €7.50. People are angry.”

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