In June, the average number of calls made at the National Institute of Medical Emergency (INEM) skyrocketed. On certain days, there were periods when operators took, on average, six and eight minutes to answer the phones, when the recommended number is seven seconds. In the same month, almost ten thousand calls were lost and only half were recovered.

Internal data from INEM obtained by the Jornel de Noticais (JN) reveal many problems in the Urgent Patient Guidance Centers (CODU). First of all, serious shortages of human resources. Practically every day there are fewer pre-hospital emergency technicians (TEPHs) in service.

According to the information to which the JN had access, on June 21, Friday after the Corpo de Deus holiday, between 10.30 and 11.00, the operators took an average of six minutes to answer the calls transferred by the exchange 112. On the 24th, St. John’s Day in Porto, between 10.00 am and 10.30 am, the average time was eight minutes.

In response to the JN, INEM clarified that these are “service peaks”, “that represent exceptions to the punctual service which is the performance of the CODU”.

However, throughout the month, there are several examples that point to many difficulties. On day 2, the three CODUs (Porto, Coimbra and Lisbon) answered a total of 3465 calls, with an average service time of 217 seconds (3.6 minutes).

That day when there was less TEPHs at the service (64 when the average of the month is 70). On the same day 2, a total of 1716 calls were disconnected at the origin and the call-back system only retrieved 28% of the contacts. The next day, 1124 calls were lost and 25% were recovered.

Not all outgoing calls at the source are unresponsive emergencies. The INEM explains that some are to ask if the ambulance is delayed, others are turned off because the caller realizes that someone has already called INEM and there are also abusive uses.

Between 1 and 24 June, of the 89 215 calls answered, 9805 were turned off before the operator answered and only 49% were retrieved. About the remaining 51% no one knows the purpose they had.

It is claimed that with a deficit of more than 400 TEPHs, the coverage does not stretch. Professionals are lacking in CODU and in ambulances. As a result, call waiting times increase, thousands are lost in the middle, and the inoperability of the means grows.

The numbers are not surprising to the vice president of the Pre-Hospital Emergency Workers’ Union (STEPH). And July and August “will be worse, both at media level and at CODU level,” predicts Rui Lázaro.

July and August can worsen

INEM guarantees that in the CODU “the scales will be as complete as possible” and stated the recent authorization of the Government that allows workers to work up to 80% of their base remuneration.

Rui Lázaro is not so optimistic. The scales of this month already indicate problems. The CODU Norte has, on average, 15 scheduled operators per shift, when the minimum is 19, says the STEPH leader. Of those, it remains to be seen how many will actually be present because there are always unpredictable shortages and “last-minute changes to open up means that are inoperative.” It should be noted that the TEPH can work both in the CODU and in the INEM.

In the ambulances, the July scales are also lacking. The ambulance Porto 1 (in Rua de Faria Guimarães) “has already closed the night shift” and of the 62 planned, has 12 assured.

For Rui Lázaro, in addition to the shortage of TEPH, there is growing dissatisfaction among professionals with a recent schedule, which is increasing the unavailability of technicians to work overtime.