Speech by Jorge Pires, Member of the Political Committee of the Central Committee of the PCP

The decisive role of the NHS in combating the epidemic outbreak and in guaranteeing the right to healthcare - Situation and measures

The decisive role of the NHS in combating the epidemic outbreak and in guaranteeing the right to healthcare - Situation and measures

More than a month after detecting the first case of contagion with coronavirus in Portugal, the central question that the PCP has posed from the outset remains very topical: adopting a set of appropriate procedures of prevention in which public healthcare services play a crucial role and strengthening the capacity of the National Health Service in all its fields, which are crucial for enabling a clinical response.

In a framework in which the number of patients with COVID-19 continues to increase, more than 11 700 and despite the positive signs of the last days with a stabilisation of the percentage growth in the number of cases resting below 10%, it is vital to give the NHS all the necessary means at the financial, technical and professional levels, which are essential to successfully fight the epidemic outbreak.

Today it is possible, even though we are far from the end of the outbreak, to verify rigorously that if we did not have a universal, general and quality NHS in Portugal the fight against the virus would be much more difficult to wage.

It is obvious that the constraints experienced daily in the NHS units are not only due to the scale of the outbreak and its consequences. They are also the result of the implementation of a strategy to reduce the public healthcare service for more than 30 years, with the closure of thousands of beds, the reduction of the number of professionals, the non-renewal of equipment. Those who today make public criticisms and demands that they know are difficult to resolve, are the same ones who for years subjected the constitutional right to healthcare to the impositions of the Euro and the European Union, and who demonised and weakened public services based on the deceitful thesis that “private ones do better and cheaper”.

The Portuguese know that it is with the NHS that they find in public healthcare and its clinical response the assurance to face the current situation.
As the PCP has stressed, the situation in several countries, besides revealing the significant epidemiological potential of COVID-19, what stands out is the seriousness of the insufficiency of the installed clinical capacity to provide an effective response to the demands that the moment demands.

The demand placed on the NHS is great. On the one hand, to respond to the growing number of victims of contagion and the needs for hospitalisation, hundreds of whom require intensive care. Cumulatively, ensure the normal activity of serving thousands of users of the NHS with other pathologies that cannot be interrupted under penalty of tomorrow losing human lives for not having access to the health care they need. Requirements that include as a priority the increase in the number of hospital beds and particularly of intensive care, properly equipped. To do this, it is essential to reopen many of the more than 4,000 beds closed in the last 15 years (more than 2000 between 2011 and 2015), acquire the necessary equipment, and also employ the thousands of professionals who have shown themselves to be ready to return to work. This is not a theoretical exercise, but a real possibility that only depends on political will to materialise the necessary investment.

The success of the fight against the epidemic involves ensuring safety conditions for healthcare professionals. Situations of lack of adequate equipment persist in some healthcare units that need to be overcome.

The high number of healthcare professionals, more than 1300, with occupational disease due to COVID-19 in the exercise of their activity, reveals in the worst way the lost time that is urgent to recover.

Acquisitions made abroad, largely due to cooperation in the field of bilateral relations between Portugal and China, a cooperation that is all the more necessary as the European Union's stance shows once again, its inertia, even hypocrisy and lack of solidarity, as seen on the retention of equipment purchased between countries of the EU itself, have enabled to overcome first-hand the shortage of material.

But the acquisition from abroad, indispensable as it turns out, testifies to the growing national dependence associated with the abandonment of production and the lack of incentive to research. The fact that several universities and companies have decided to contribute, creating and producing this type of equipment, prove the PCP right that it is essential to invest in a strategy of replacing imports by national production. In the case of health, the focus on national production is more than an economic issue, it is above all an affirmation of national sovereignty in a sector essential to people's lives.

The present epidemic outbreak and its developments make it urgent to overcome delays and some lingering hesitations. The expected situation that is being experienced in nursing homes for the elderly justified PCP's warning in the Assembly of the Republic on March 3rd. requires the prompt adoption of measures to prevent further loss of life, ensuring that no one is left behind .

The density and diversity of measures that the situation requires, need planning, investment and capacity to implement.

The defence of a strategic reserve of medicines assumes particular acuity in the face of economic interests contrary to the national interest which seek to interfere and condition decisions for their own benefit, manage stocks according to their interests and install a regime of speculation of prices.

The PCP points out as aspects of the political response that the country's situation poses, whether those that correspond to structural problems, or those that result from the epidemic outbreak and its repercussions:

• Hire all available professionals to return to work at the NHS units;

• Reopen as many beds as possible at the Pulido Valente Hospital, a hospital that has played a very important role in the field of pneumology;

• Assign the Military Hospital in Belém (in the past dedicated to the fight against infectious diseases), whose reopening has been decided, to the outbreak of COVID-19;

• Extend to other industrial units in the country with the aim of converting industrial production to start producing clinical material, reagents, medicines, essential equipment to respond to the epidemic outbreak;

• Extend the number of tests to healthcare professionals, to all those who are in contact with potential carriers of the virus, to the elderly (to all the elderly even without a record of detected cases) and to the professionals who are responsible for providing them with the necessary care;

• Take urgent measures to complete the creation of the National Laboratory of Medicines, as decided by the Assembly of the Republic.

The PCP reaffirms that in a framework marked by a very significant reduction in economic activity, the reduction of wages and income will add, with the loss of purchasing power, to a retraction of the domestic market inducing a recessive process that must be prevented.

Without underestimating the economic impacts that the epidemic outbreak is causing, the PCP warns of the instrumentalization of the situation in terms of enhancing neoliberal policies, to serve monopoly capital and attack rights, as well as for the promotion of reactionary and anti-democratic conceptions aimed at attacking freedoms and fundamental guarantees of democracy.

Today, what is needed is to assume public investment and support for production, as well as guaranteeing workers' full income, as strategic features in the short and medium term.

A communication of truth and transparency, against alarms that help create panic and the non-imposition of restrictions on the intervention of workers’ and people’s organisations in designing and implementing measures to fight the epidemic, are in themselves a factor that promotes confidence, health and well-being.

For this year 2020, the World Health Organization proposes as a theme that we celebrate the work of nursing professionals, underlining the critical role they play to keep the world healthy.

On this occasion, the PCP joins the homage, attention and support that WHO exhorts us all to make to nursing professionals and extends it to all professionals - nurses, doctors, diagnosis technicians, other superior healthcare technicians, operational assistants.

An initiative that once again gives reason to the struggle that we have always been conducting so that the professionals from the National Health Service find recognized their contractual conditions, careers, pay and working conditions in accordance with their demanding training, the high risks they run and the high responsibilities they have to ensure essential functions of citizens and society, as is the case at this time when they are at the forefront of the response to COVID-19.

A final word of hope addressed to the Portuguese workers and people. We will certainly overcome the difficult phase that the country is going through. The path we are going to encounter will encounter many hurdles. We will overcome them with determination and with the certainty that the PCP will always be present, as has happened throughout its 99 years of life, to uphold the rights and interests of the workers and people.