Why Portugal’s health minister quit after the death of a pregnant Indian tourist

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There’s a staffing crisis across natal units in Portugal and it’s proving to be fatal. A 34-year-old pregnant Indian tourist died after suffering a cardiac arrest. She was reportedly being transferred from one hospital to another in the capital Lisbon because no beds were available.

The intense criticism following the death which many blame on the staffing shortage in natal units in Portugal forced the country’s health minister to resign. According to the Portuguese daily Jornal de Notícias, Dr Marta Temido’s resignation came after backlash over the closure of emergency care services, lack of doctors in hospitals, and cases of pregnant women who suffered complications because the national health service was not able to respond.

The death of the Indian tourist led to outrage against Temido’s decision to temporarily close emergency obstetric services in the country. The Portuguese health ministry said in a statement that Temido, who held the post since 2018, had decided to step down as she “realised that she no longer had the conditions to remain in office”.

Accepting the resignation, Portugal’s Prime Minister Antonio Costa posted on Twitter that he was “grateful” for all the work done by Temido, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. He also promised to continue with reforms to strengthen the country’s healthcare system.

The PM said that the woman’s death was “the last straw” that led Temido to step down, reports Portugal’s Lusa news agency.

The death of the Indian woman

According to reports in the local media, the Indian woman was 31 weeks pregnant. She was rushed to Lisbon’s Santa Maria Hospital, the largest in Portugal, after complaining of shortness of breath.

After her condition stabilised, the hospital transferred her to the Sao Francisco Xavier hospital as its neonatal department was full. However, she went into cardiac arrest on the way.
The woman’s baby was delivered following an emergency Cesarean section at the second hospital, according to authorities. A probe has been launched into her death.

Other incidents

However, this is not an isolated case. There have been a series of incidents in Portugal in recent months because of the staffing crisis.

Two infants have died in separate incidents after their mothers were transferred between hospitals and faced long delays, BBC reports.

The crisis in Portugal

There has been a shortage of health staff in Portugal, especially those in the gynaecology and obstetrics departments.

The health ministry has been accused of failing to plan for the staff shortage during the summer when many people take holidays from work, reports Euronews. Doctors and nurses have also been critical of the country’s policies and have complained of poor working conditions and extreme fatigue.

The shortage of staff has forced many health facilities in Portugal to shut down. With many natal units closed, overcrowded maternity wards and long waits have become common.

Opposition parties and medical professionals have blamed Temido for the ongoing crisis. Temporarily closing down maternity facilities forced pregnant women to go from hospital to hospital, posing a risk to their health.

Temido, who has now quit, was hailed for the handling of the pandemic, especially the country’s vaccine rollout. BBC quotes Gustavo Tato Borges, the president of Portugal's public health association, telling local outlet RTP that he did not expect the minister’s resignation, and was “surprised” that she had stepped down while there are “acute problems” in the health sector.

With inputs from agencies

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Why Portugal’s health minister quit after the death of a pregnant Indian tourist
Why Portugal’s health minister quit after the death of a pregnant Indian tourist
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