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Families with children accessing health less due to money

Families with children up to the age of 15 in Portugal are resorting less to health services due to lack of money, according to the results of a national survey released on Monday that shows that last year more than 15% of such households did not seek help for bouts of illness.

The work carried out by two researchers from the Nova School of Business and Economics (Nova SBE), Pedro Pita Barros and Carolina Santos, raises the alarm: poverty is preventing many families from going to doctor’s appointments or emergency rooms, in a country where minors are exempt from user charges.

Last year, 15.63% of families with children and young people up to the age of 15 were not seen by a health professional despite being ill, according to the work dedicated to “Children’s Access to Health Care”, which is part of the “Health Sector Analyses Series” and which allows us to see the evolution of the phenomenon since 2013.

The survey shows that the situation has worsened, since in the previous year, households that did not access healthcare accounted for 13.33% of the total.

The work also shows that over the last decade, there have always been more than 10% of those surveyed in this situation, with 2015 and 2017 being the worst years for this, as more than one in four families were not seen by a health professional despite one of their members being ill (20.48% and 23.48%, respectively).

The researchers wanted to see if this reduction could be attributed to less serious episodes of illness, but found that it was rather that children from poorer families faced “higher financial barriers to access,” according to the note that Lusa has seen.

However, in a country where minors are exempt from paying user charges in the state-funded National Health Service (SNS), “there are probably difficulties with other expenses associated with access to health care,” the authors warned.

“Overall, the results show that the origin of the problem of children’s access to health care lies in child poverty,” they conclude, welcoming the positive discrimination mechanisms for minors that exist in the SNS, but arguing that more needs to be done.

According to the Nova SBE researchers, poverty must be tackled in order to mitigate barriers to access.

“The goal of ensuring adequate healthcare for the population cannot be achieved solely through health policies, in the strict sense,” the document emphasises. “It is necessary to (re)evaluate the implementation of comprehensive social protection policies, since these complement health policies.”

The study also compares households with children under and over 15 years of age and concludes precisely that families with young children are more affected and seek the health system less.

A common indicator between these two groups of households is the fact that both tend not to buy all the necessary medicines.

Last year, around 18.37% of respondents from families with children under the age of 15 did not buy all the medicines needed to treat the episode of illness.

There were also other factors with the potential to influence access to healthcare, such as not having an assigned family doctor, but the researchers concluded that families with younger children were not more disadvantaged in this process.

“Both types of households were negatively affected by the lack of family doctors,” reads the document released on Monday, which notes that it is becoming increasingly difficult to find such practitioners.

Almost 9,000 people took part in the various surveys carried out by Nova SBE between 2013 and 2022, with the respondents being “a representative sample of the population living in Portugal,” states the document.

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