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Portuguese doctors in two day strike over budget cuts

Marks response to €800m worth of healthcare cuts as part of bailout agreement

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Doctors in Portugal are in the midst of a two-day strike to protest healthcare budget cuts implemented by the government as part of widespread austerity measures.

Led by medical professional unions the National Federation of Doctors (FNAM) and the Independent Doctor's Union (SIM), the country's largest doctors' strike since the 1980s began Wednesday July 11 and will end later today.

According to the Portuguese health ministry, as many as 4,000 operations and 400,000 appointments may be cancelled over the 48 hours as a result of the action, although hospitals will continue to provide emergency services and vital treatments such as chemotherapy, dialysis and transplants.

The strike is in response to government cuts of €800m from the country's healthcare budget that are part of a €78bn bailout deal agreed with the European Union (EU) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) in response to the country's deficit.

As part of the bailout agreement, Portugal is having to reduce this deficit from 9.1 per cent in 2011 to 3 per cent by 2013 at time of record unemployment.

To reduce healthcare spending, the country's government has initiated plans to reduce overtime, increase the price the public pay for prescription medications and has even closed certain services.

Unions have responded by claiming these measures are restricting access to healthcare, with the country's poorest citizens hit hardest.

Carlos Braga, a spokesman for a patients' rights group in Lisbon, told news agency AFP: "Thousands of people are now deprived of care because they cannot afford the prices that were put in place in January."

The healthcare unions involved in the strike have released a list of 20 issues and demands, that include the termination of a controversial recruitment programme for the country's national health service, imposed last May by the government.

According to the AFP, Portugal's Health Minister Paulo Maceo, had said he was "ready for dialogue and negotiations" in an attempt to avert the strike action.

However, these claims were denounced by the FNAM, which released a statement saying the minister had not been directly in touch with the trade unions and never presented a time to meet.

12th July 2012

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