Wed May 10, 2017 12:29PM
The undated photo shows a hospital in the Portuguese capital city of Lisbon.
The undated photo shows a hospital in the Portuguese capital city of Lisbon.

Doctors working for Portugal’s public health system have launched a strike in protest against working conditions and budget cuts that they say have affected the quality of services.

Diana Povoas, a leader of the National Federation of Doctors (FNAM), said on Wednesday that many from a population of 26,000 doctors working in public hospitals and health facilities took part in the walkout, which was to last for two days.

“All signs show strong turnout for the strike,” said Povoas, adding, “Most non-emergency surgeries and appointments are not taking place, but the atmosphere is calm in hospitals. Patients understand the reasons for the strike because they also feel a decline in services.”

FNAM and another doctors' union known as SIM organized the strike. They want a reduction in working hours for emergency workers from 200 hours a year to 150, while calling on the government to cancel budget cuts that were adopted during Portugal's negotiations with international creditors between 2011 and 2014.

FNAM's head Mario Jorge Neves said the current socialist administration, which took office in November 2015, has yet to scrap austerity measures devised by the previous government.

"The government changed but the policies remain the same," said Neves of the efforts by the previous and current governments to secure the installment of a badly-needed bailout package from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

Officials and other sources did not elaborate on the actual number of doctors contributing to the walkout.

The 48-hour action would end before a two-day pilgrimage to Portugal by Pope Francis, which is due to begin on Friday. Government workers are allowed to attend Pope's visit to the holy site of Fatima in central Portugal, meaning that healthcare services will continue to function with reduced staff levels on Friday.