Portugal’s health minister has resigned hours after reports emerged that a pregnant tourist had died after being turned away from a full maternity ward.
The 34-year-old Indian woman reportedly suffered a cardiac arrest while being transferred between Lisbon hospitals.
It follows a string of incidents this summer that critics blame on a staffing crisis across Portuguese natal units.
Dr Marta Temido had been the health minister since 2018, and is credited with steering Portugal through Covid-19 pandemic.
But on Tuesday, the government said in a statement that Dr Temido had “realised that she no longer had the conditions to remain in office”.
Portugal’s Prime Minister António Costa said the woman’s death was “the last straw” that led to Dr Temido’s resignation, according to Portugal’s Lusa news agency.
It follows a storm of criticism over the Portuguese government’s handling of staff shortages in maternity units, by temporarily closing some of them and forcing pregnant women to undergo risky transfers between hospitals.
Local media reported that the pregnant tourist died while being moved from Lisbon’s Santa Maria Hospital – the largest in Portugal – because its neonatology unit was full.
Her baby was delivered in good health following an emergency caesarean section, authorities said. An investigation into the woman’s death has been launched.
There have been similar incidents across Portugal in recent months – including the separate deaths of two infants whose mothers had apparently been transferred between hospitals and endured long delays.
Portugal’s shortage of health staff, especially those specialising in gynaecology and obstetrics, has led to the government considering hiring from abroad.
The closure of some natal units has lead to overflowing maternity wards and long wait times, with opposition parties, doctors and nurses pointing blame at the former health minister.
Speaking to local outlet RTP, the chair of the Portuguese doctors association Miguel Guimaraes said Dr Temido quit because she did not have any way of resolving the current crisis – before going on to praise her record in office.
However Gustavo Tato Borges, the president of Portugal’s public health association, told RTP he did not expect her resignation, and was “surprised” that she had stepped down while there are “acute problems” in the health sector.
Dr Temido was widely credited with successfully handling the country’s vaccine rollout during the Covid-19 pandemic.