Portuguese staff meet their country’s President

Portuguese staff at Royal Brompton and Harefield hospitals got the chance to meet one of their country’s most senior figures on Saturday (11 June) when the Portuguese President made an official visit.

President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa spent nearly an hour talking to staff and taking ‘selfies’ after a guided tour of the Diagnostic Centre and a visit to York Ward, both at Royal Brompton, as part of his country’s celebration of National Portugal Day. 

Portuguese President with staffThe President met many of the more than 100 Portuguese staff from Royal Brompton and Harefield along the tour route, and then addressed a gathering of them in the Chelsea wing café, before spending time chatting with families and friends, and enthusiastically posing with them and their smartphones. 

It was part of Portugal’s national day of celebrations, when for the last few years the President and other senior figures travel to other parts of the world on or around 10 June to visit Portuguese communities and help them still feel connected to their homeland.

In a very personal message to staff, the President said: “I want to thank you for your work during the pandemic, because being a healthcare professional is giving your life, 24 hours a day, for the benefit of others. And during the pandemic you made far more personal sacrifices – long hours, putting your lives at risk, spending less time with your families – and you cannot put a price on the value of that.

“As your government, we are all here today to personally thank you. Portugal has many hallmarks of quality and all of you here are, without doubt, one of them.

Portuguese President addressing staff“Your dedication to your profession and your humility is amazing. It is an honour being here with you today. There is no price for your dedication. I thank you for your professionalism and ask that you never for one second forget Portugal!” 

The President was accompanied by Foreign Secretary Joao Gomes Cravinho, Secretary of State for the Portuguese Communities Paulo Cafofo, and Portuguese Ambassador to the United Kingdom Nuno Brito.

Portuguese staff who talked with the President and his team, including director of operations and development Robert Craig who hosted the visit, said they were struck by how personal and people-centred he was.

Joao Moura was the charge nurse on York Ward who showed the President round. He said: “When you are under so much pressure, it can be a comfort just to hear another person speak in Portuguese and the President recognised that and actually mentioned it in his speech.”

Marcos Ferreira, another charge nurse, brought his two-year-old son in for the occasion. “We have a picture of the President making a face to try and make him laugh – you don’t expect that!” he said.

“When he was taking selfies with us he was thanking us, and saying well done to all of us – it was just very personal,” said facilities manager Delia Rodrigues. 

Portuguese President with staffHe is just a very down-to-earth guy and really wanted to meet us all. It was he who suggested a selfie, which he then wanted to take himself rather than have someone take it for him,” said Ricardo Jose, consultant in respiratory medicine. 

“He was very proud of what we had done during the pandemic and asked quite interesting questions about how we escalate intensive care unit capacity. He was very impressed with how we manage it here,” said critical care consultant Joana Alcada.

The President also said in his speech: “I remember when I was a lecturer my students would ask ‘should or shouldn’t I go and practice abroad?’ Well, It’s a personal choice to leave Portugal and each case is different. But the riches that are learnt abroad enrich us all. I hope that some of you after being here and experiencing what the UK offers will think of returning and bringing that experience to Portugal. We do not forget you here in the UK. Some of you have been here for over 10 years, some longer, but no matter how long it has been, you remain an integral part of Portugal.”