Weary Portuguese nurses stress on pay over applause, amid COVID fight
LISBON (PORTUGAL) – At midnight nurse Ines Lopes and her colleagues are prepping up for the night shift taking care of patients in a COVID-19 intensive care unit in the heart of Lisbon.
The chaos amid COVID has fuelled frustration among health professionals, who are struggling to make ends meet because of low salaries and lack of opportunities to climb up the career ladder, Lopes said.
Lopes, 30, told in the small two-bedroom apartment she shares with her sister and a cat in a residential area in the outskirts of Lisbon, “They (politicians) say we are the best in the world but then there are no salary increases.”
“Clapping and thanking us won’t solve a thing,” she said, adding many nurses work in back-to-back jobs to provide for their families.
After a few hours at the Sao Jose Hospital, one of Lisbon’s largest, she joined hands with a rotating team of nurses working non-stop in a long corridor with rooms filled with COVID-19 patients.
Although visibly tired, they quickly put on protective gear and entered rooms to provide medication and clean up patients, most of whom were unconscious.
“We are overwhelmed, we are in disbelief,” Lopes said.
Nearly 45,500 nurses work at the national health service (SNS) divided into three professional categories. Nearly half, including Lopes, earn 1,205 euros ($1,465) per month before tax.
After tax, some take home as little as 980 euros, just 315 euros above the minimum wage, according to the Nurses’ Order.
Even those who have worked for two decades at times make the same money, the nurses union SEP said.
Lopes, who graduated from nursing school in 2012, amid an economic crisis, spent a year looking for work. After Portugal froze the progression in nurses’ career and salaries, thousands of her colleagues went abroad in pursuit of better pay.
Her salary has continued to be the same since she started. Now she is apprehensively looking ahead into the future for the economic impact of the pandemic, which became even more hard to fight because of a shortage of nurses and doctors.
“There have been many governments but it’s always the same thing,” Lopes said. “Everyone is feeling down.”
“The government must adopt policies to keep nurses here and that cannot happen with low wages,” said union representative Guadalupe Simoes. “Otherwise, Portuguese nurses will continue to try to go to other countries where they can earn more.”