Portugal benefits from access to a quality public health system (12th in the OECD ranking). At-risk populations such as children, pregnant women and the elderly have prompt access to care of quality roughly equal to that observed in Europe.
The Portuguese National Health System (SNS) is composed of :
- local health units,
- of groups of health centres
- of public hospitals
In general, health care is provided by health centres (centros de saúde) and their local branches. When a patient wishes to consult a specialist doctor, an appointment can be made within 72 hours through these centres. This is, therefore, a relatively efficient system, given the delays in access to care observed in other European countries.)
In an emergency, the patient can go to the nearest permanent care service (Serviço de Atendimento Permanente, SAP) or the hospital. When the waiting period for admission to a hospital exceeds three months, the patient has the right to go to a private clinic contracted by the Ministry of Health.
However, the public health system in Portugal is not free of charge, although it is much cheaper than a private service. Each consultation, whether at the health centre or in hospital, has a co-payment. A general medical consultation costs on average €4.50 and general emergency service costs around €18.