Portugal enjoys a good level of healthcare, both in the state-run public health system and in its private hospitals and clinics.Many expats opt to simply go with the public health system, which only charges a nominal amount for basic appointments and prescriptions as long as you fit the eligibility criteria. Others choose to take out private health insurance to cover visits to particular specialist centres and for added peace of mind.
Health And Life Expectancy In Portugal
The State of Health in the EU report’s section on Portugal paints a good overall picture of healthcare in the country, adding that health services have continually been improving over the last decade.
Lifestyle diseases are less common in Portugal than in many other EU countries, probably because of the low level of smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. In Portugal the rate of binge drinking is less than half the EU average, and under 20% of adults smoke cigarettes on a regular basis, which accounts for the low levels of pulmonary disease.
Despite the relative lack of smoking and drinking, cardiovascular disease and cancers are still the leading causes of death in Portugal. This is linked to the high level of obesity in the country, which is even higher than the EU average. Obesity in children is a particular cause for concern for government health authorities, and measures are gradually being brought in to encourage healthier food and lifestyle choices for children and adults alike.
Like in most other countries around the world, the level of care you can expect to receive will differ greatly depending on where you live. Larger cities such as Lisbon and Porto have excellent, well-staffed hospitals with modern equipment, and you should also find good facilities in popular expat destinations like the Algarve. However, if you live in a rural area where there are few other people from abroad, you will probably find that your access to good healthcare requires you to travel a reasonable distance each time you need to go to the doctor or visit a hospital.
This is a problem faced by many retirees in the country: often people decide to retire to rural locations for a bit of peace and quiet, but then discover that they have limited access to the healthcare they need. If this is something you are worried about, see if you can sign up for a private health insurance policy that includes transportation to and from appointments. The premiums for this kind of cover can be quite high, however on balance you might decide that it is worth it for the added peace of mind.
Another cause for concern is the unusually high rate of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia among the ageing population. These have increased hugely in the last two decades, bringing the number of Alzheimer’s and dementia related deaths from 17th place in the list of fatal illnesses all the way up to sixth.
Criticisms Of The Portuguese Health System
Since the economic crisis of 2015, Portugal’s public health expenditure has declined, and the amount people are required to pay for cost sharing has increased. There are still measures in place to help those who are not able to pay, but expats who visit the doctor regularly and take a lot of prescription medication might face increasing challenges in terms of cost. Currently, children are exempt from these payments, so you do not need to worry about costs being higher if you have a large family.
The main cause for concern in Portugal is the lack of available staff, particularly in public institutions. This is especially a problem in rural locations. The ratio of nurses to doctors is very low, at 6.3 nurses per 1,000 patients, which means that waiting times can be artificially inflated due to a lack of available healthcare practitioners.
Mortality rates are in line with EU averages, but they are much higher for men than for women. 152 men die per 100,000 people each year, compared with 84 women; a difference of 68, or nearly 50%.
One of the main areas the EU report quoted above has recommended for improvement is preventative care. Unlike in many other countries, local planners do not work with health professionals in their areas to consider the impact of their decisions on the local population. More could be done, according to the EU, to decrease levels of obesity (particularly among children) and to encourage healthier choices when it comes to eating and exercise.
Overall, then, the standard of healthcare you can expect if you move to Portugal is high, but there is still room for improvement. Moving to a city or a highly populated area will almost certainly mean you will receive a higher standard of care.
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