European Trade Union Institute, ETUI.

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19 March 2018

Portugal: decree limits working time for junior doctors

The government has published a decree that should make an end on long working hours for young doctors that are on medical internship. Doctors and their trade unions have been asking for this for years. The change of the working time regulation is a first result, which fits in a package of demands that aims to repair the damage created in the sector by the austerity policy.

A decree that was published on 26 February 2018  in the official government gazette, the Diário da República, will lead to a reform of the education and training of doctors. The decree modifies the organisation of the medical internship, the postgraduate medical training that medical graduates and masters need to complete to practice their profession. It will limit the work of junior doctors in emergency and intensive care to a maximum of 12 hours per week, with the possibility of doing an extra 12-hour shift. However, these additional 12 hours per week must be completed in a single shift and they cannot be divided in different shifts. The decree that defines new rules for medical internship puts junior doctors and specialists on an equal footing.

It is the first result of a two years campaign of doctors and their trade unions that have put pressure on the health ministry to come up with concrete proposals and to end the austerity policy. They had announced a three day strike for early April 2018. The doctors formulated demands such as an improvement of the medical internship, the launch of tenders for the placement of young doctors, a reduction from 18 to 12 hours a week in emergency service, returning to 1,500 patients per family doctor instead of the current 1,900, the revision of salary grids with a return to the 35-hours work week with the option of 40 hours with overtime. Some of the demands ask for a reversal of measures that were taken as a result of the intervention of the troika.

The country has been confronted with a clear brain drain, with young doctors leaving because they are unhappy with exhaustingly long shifts, poor working conditions, and a lack of career prospects. A survey that was carried out among three distinct groups of doctors in northern Portugal (2,283 specialists, young doctors, and those who already left public services) concluded that the biggest feelings of discontent were voiced among the youngest doctors.

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