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Portuguese Doctors, Nurses Launch 48-Hour Strike Over Austerity Cuts

Common Dreams staff

Nurses chain themselves during a protest in front of the Health Ministry in Lisbon July 6, 2012. Portuguese Nurses Union (SEP) organized a demonstration to protest against subcontracting of nurses to health centers and hospitals. A 48-hour nationwide strike of Portuguese doctors and nurses began, Wednesday, July 11, 2012. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante

Thousands of Portuguese doctors and nurses are staging a 48-hour strike to protest austerity measures they say are destroying the country's public health care service.

Although the strike will cause widespread disruption to patients, it has attracted widespread public sympathy from people fed up with the declining standards. Thousands are expected to join in a protest in Lisbon on Wednesday.

The Portuguese government is slashing health spending as part of deep austerity cuts promised in return for last year's $96 billion bailout by the EU and the International Monetary Fund.

Unions say the measures, which include higher prescription charges, will affect the poorest in society.

They complain that many doctors are working excessive hours and object to the use of private companies to provide public services.

The strike by medical staff, which began on Wednesday, is due to last 48 hours.

Many hospitals rescheduled surgery and clinics postponed medical appointments ahead of the strike which was announced last month.

Emergency services were unaffected.

The head of the National Federation of Doctors, Mario Jorge Neves, told Agence France Presse that he was certain the strike would be a "resounding success".

A spokesman for a patients' rights group in Lisbon, Carlos Braga, told the news agency the number of people who could not pay for healthcare was rising.

"Thousands of people are now deprived of care because they cannot afford the prices that were put in place in January," he said.

After seeking the bailout last year, Portugal has increased taxes, reduced spending to shrink the size of government and privatized many publicly-owned companies and utilities. The government says that drastic cut to pensions and public-sector workers’ summer and Christmas salary payments through 2014 was central to its deficit-reduction effort.

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