A GUIDE TO: SIGNING UP TO A DOCTORS (SNS) & OBTAINING PRESCRIPTION DRUGS
PLEASE NOTE THAT ALL OUR PAPERWORK PROCEDURES WERE CARRIED OUT PRIOR TO BREXIT DATE EXCEPT FOR EXCHANGING OUR DRIVING LICENCES. WE HAVE FOUND THAT DIFFERENT GOVERNMENT OFFICES REQUIRE DIFFERENT DOCUMENTATION AND SOME ARE MORE STRICT THAN OTHERS IN WANTING MORE DOCUMENTS SO IT REALLY DOES DEPEND ON WHERE YOU LIVE. IT VARIES A LOT FROM REGION TO REGION. PLEASE DO CHECK WITH YOUR OWN LOCAL OFFICE BEFORE YOU VISIT TO MAKE SURE YOU HAVE THE CORRECT DOCUMENTATION TO CARRY OUT THE PROCESS YOU DESIRE.
This has definitely been our biggest challenge since arriving! We attended our local doctors surgery in Côja. We wanted to register with the Portuguese National Health Service (Serviço Nacional de Saúde – SNS) which is equivalent to the NHS in the UK. Our main reason for this was because we are entitled to do this as UK citizens and the costs are much more affordable than private doctors. I am not currently working in Portugal and we are down to one income so it is very important that we register with SNS as I can’t afford private medical insurance and I have a health condition which requires daily medication (repeat prescriptions).
We arrived at the doctors surgery with all necessary paperwork:
- 5 year temporary resident permit.
- Fiscal number
The receptionist did not speak any English and seemed to be working away and completely ignoring us. We asked to register using our limited Portuguese but the receptionist was extremely abrupt and did not want to register us. We were being super polite but half way through our conversation she put a closed sign up and went off to lunch. I was so frustrated! We sat outside on the bench and I did have a little cry as I was panicking about obtaining my repeat prescription. After I dried my tears I got mad! We went off to lunch and decided to return after lunch and go for take 2. Maybe she thought we were tourists and not residents. Anyway we returned and I had our residency document in my hand and basically passed it to her. She said she could register us but there are no doctors available. I only think she agreed as she now had a colleague sat next to her. I tried to explain that I did not need to see a doctor that day but she just kept telling us to go to Arganil doctors. Anyway we completed a form and she reluctantly gave us the Documento De Identificação o Do Utente (A4 paper document) and again told us to go to Arganil doctors. I asked how to book an appointment and the cost but she ignored me. After I left I realised she registered me as male!
A few days later we visited Arganil Centro de Saúde as we both needed fit notes from a doctor to exchange our UK driving licences to portuguese ones. I also needed my repeat prescription. The receptionist there was lovely and spoke English. As our appointments were non urgent (we were not sick) she was unable to give us both an appointment but told to come back on Thursday at 8am as that is when the English speaking doctor was there. We arrived at 7.30am and there was a queue. The receptionist only had one appointment for 7pm. We returned at 7pm and saw a lovely English speaking doctor. The fee to see a doctor is 4.50 euros. We waited until 8.15pm to be seen. As only one of us could be seen that day the doctor recommended that we go to see her at another doctor’s surgery in São Martinho da Cortiça as she works there most days of the week. We did this and the system was great. We arrived at 8.30am and the reception opened at 9am. I was given an appointment for 9.15am.
Before I left the UK I obtained a letter from my GP listing my repeat prescriptions with an official stamp. This was not needed and I only had to show an empty box of drugs and the doctor was able to give me a 6 month prescription. This is fantastic as in the UK they only gave me 2 months supply per prescription and would not give me more. I did not pay for my prescriptions in the UK as my condition was classed as a medical exemption which enabled me to have free prescriptions even though I worked full time. The cost of 6 months supply was 2.34 euros and I didn’t have to buy all 6 months but I did as so cheap. I was amazed at the cost as I was concerned it would be so expensive. The doctor also gave me the Medical fit to drive cert which I needed for IMT to exchange my driving licence.
You are supposed to be able to book appointments in person, by telephone and online. As our Portuguese is still limited booking online would be great for us as I can’t imagine having to drive 25 minutes if you are ill and waiting to see if you can get an appointment or not. To book online you must obtain a Digital Mobile Key (Chave Móvel Digital). This process seems straight forward but was the most complicated procedure I have experienced since arriving here. For a foreign citizen it is linked to your mobile phone number (this can be a Portuguese or UK mobile phone), passport and NIF number. You cannot apply online; you must go in person to a Citizen Space and not all Citizen Spaces offer the service. We visited Arganil Citizen Space and were told to come back after lunch when English speaking staff was available. The staff there were very friendly. They viewed our passports and inputted info onto a computer which produced a number code sent by SMS. You then choose a password code (pin) which enables you to access the SNS portal. They managed to obtain a number code for my husband but not for me. They tried several times then gave me the info so I could try at home. I tried for over 1.5 hrs and eventually I managed to access the SNS portal.
The process is very long even with the access pin code. You click on the link below.
- Click on mobile phone Authorise
- Input your mobile number then pin and authenticate
- Then you receive a code via SMS
- Then you wait a long time!
- Then click confirm
- Type in user number which is your utente number and tick box that you are not a robot (unless you are a robot) and that you have read terms & conditions and click validate
- Click on contact with health units
- Click on Bookings
- Click on make an appointment
- Then it comes up with this message: Your Health Center / USF has no consultation types / programs loaded. Please contact your Health Center / USF.
So although I can access the online booking system for SNS, I cannot make an appointment online. I am not sure if this is because the Côja Doctors receptionist did not allocate a family named doctor on our Utente registration document or if there is some kind of other issue. I’m not too bothered but after the hassle of obtaining the Mobile digital key it would be good to be able to book appointments and order my repeat prescriptions online. I have emailed the SNS helpline who are fantastic and reply almost immediately even at 10pm at night but they say that appointments are booked via doctors surgeries so I need to contact them. I will check with Arganil doctors in due course and update.
I have now managed to access repeat prescriptions online which is great as I don’t need to go into the doctors surgery. I was only able to do this when a doctor added my drugs to the online system. I am yet to have access to book an appointment online. The saga continues!
Doctor fees in Portugal
Public health costs are largely subsidised by the SNS but patients are expected to make a contribution unless they qualify for exemption, such as children and retirees.
The current co-payment costs of doctors in Portugal under the state healthcare system are:
- General consultation with GP – €4.50
- Basic consultation with a nurse or health professional at a health centre – €3.50
- Consultation with a health professional at a hospital – €4.50
- Consultation with a specialist – €7.50
- Home visit – €9
- Consultation over the phone – €2.50
- Overnight stay in a hospital – €25
Update Februrary 2021
I am delighted to announce that not only can I print off my repeat prescriptions online from the SNS portal but there are now appointments available online for certain days. This has took a year to sort but I am so happy. The lack of appointments was due to Covid. I now have a lovely family doctor allocated to me and she speaks English which is fantastic. I also had a nightmare with not being able to log on to the SNS portal as they had an error on their system but I emailed the SNS helpline and they rectified the issue. So I’m sorted which is a huge relief off of my mind. I’m off to celebrate. The only minor issue now is the mobile chave registration has my date of birth slightly wrong but it doesn’t seem to affect anything so I’m not bothered. The doctors have the right date and the Citizen shop is closed due to Covid and lockdown so I can’t visit anyway. Perseverance is the key!