“Ooh I couldn’t live abroad – what about healthcare?!” We have heard that said to us so many times before, and people often quote the need for having private healthcare as a pre-requisite for being able to live here in Portugal – which we have never had.
We’re just regular people on the normal state healthcare system here as residents .. although I have never actually had to use my ‘Documento de Identificação do Utente do SNS’ before .. until yesterday!
After a late night walk with our little dog on Sunday night, and having a shocking experience with two feral cats attacking us – my leg certainly came off worse with a series of nasty scratches and bites, and it was obvious that at the very least I knew that I would need a tetanus shot.
So I went off to our local Centro de Saúde in Lagoa at lunchtime on Monday with no idea how the system worked, but I was armed with a google translation of ‘I’ve been bitten by a wild cat” ( ‘mordido por um gato selvagem’ – seemed to work fine in case you ever need it!) and I had a great leg to prove it!
The man at the counter was very helpful – and marched me off to the ubiquitous ticket machine and handed me a ticket .. and told me to go and sit in the waiting room and wait for my number to be called … 45 minutes later I was called back to the same man at the same counter .. who checked my Utente number on the computer; I duly paid him 4.50€ and was given a printed sheet of paper with an appointment to come back at 5.30pm the same day.
(I know what you are thinking .. this is the Portuguese system at its finest .. why couldn’t I just go up to the man at the counter when I arrived, pay my money and get an appointment .. why did I have to sit for 45 minutes waiting with everyone else in turn to do exactly the same thing …. but hey this is the way it is, you just have to accept some things are done ‘a certain way’ !)
So I returned at 5.30pm and took another seat in the same waiting room expecting to make myself comfortable again … and my name was called literally 1 minute later and I was straight in to see a very charming and lovely female doctor. Within 10 minutes I had had a tetanus injection, and I left armed with a prescription for antibiotics and advice on keeping my wounds clean .. all for the original 4.50€ I had paid earlier. I was genuinely amazed that I did not have to pay extra for the tetanus shot.
And for the record – Betadine is brilliant stuff! It’s Povidone-iodine (PVP-I), also known as iodopovidone, and it is an antiseptic you can buy over the counter at the chemists … and the iodine in it also stains your skin a fabulous shade of brown; which even a local fisherman in the village recognised when I walked past him as he gave me a big thumbs-up and shouted “Oh Betadine – muito bom!”
They do a red bottle too – ‘Espuma’ which is great for cleaning wounds!
Off to the chemists and the second shock of the day was the price of my prescription for antibiotics – they cost me the grand total of 3.57€ which is quite frankly amazing. Friends on Facebook couldn’t believe either the low cost of all this, or the fact that I got an appointment to see a doctor the same afternoon – perhaps the UK system could learn a few tricks from Portugal.
Unlike in the UK, the Portuguese Health System isn’t completely free – even for Portuguese citizens. Nominal charges are payable by everyone, for tests, GP visits and other procedures; although if my experience yesterday is any indication of the pricing structure, it is by no means out of the range of the vast majority of the population.
For those of you that are interested in finding out more information – historically the fact that you were a foreigner (EU and non-EU) with residency or a residence permit or a work visa was sufficient for you to register and gain your SNS Health Care user card/number; although in practice we have heard lots of stories of people needing to produce their Social Security registration details before gaining an SNS number now …
The confusion seems to arise from the fact that if you are of legal retirement age and from the UK, you can get an S1 form from the UK that does entitle you to register with the Portuguese system. If, however, you have retired early or are of working age, you will generally only be able to get cover now if you have a job in Portugal or become self-employed (and therefore begin to contribute to Portugal’s social security system). That seems to be the ‘official line’ now although it does seem to vary depending upon which health centre you register with, and where you are from.
I have to say overall I was very impressed with the simple set up and how efficiently and kindly I was dealt with by everyone at the health centre.
Somehow paying our taxes and being legal isn’t such a bad thing after all!