The Malta Independent 9 June 2023, Friday
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Newly-graduated nurses to start work on Monday

Albert Galea Sunday, 26 August 2018, 08:50 Last update: about 6 years ago

Efforts to address the shortage of nurses in the public sector will see a substantial boost tomorrow with 108 new nurses reporting for duty in a number of hospitals in Malta and Gozo, a spokesperson for the Health Ministry told The Malta Independent on Sunday.

The nurses are all graduating from university this year, and a provision is in place for any nurses who have examination resits in September to be engaged at the end of that month subject to the successful completion of their studies, the spokesperson explained.

The call for applications from nurses graduating this year was published on 16 February so that they could be employed as soon as they were registered with the Council for Nurses and Midwives (Malta). 

In fact, recruitment interviews and medical tests were carried out in April and May so that as soon as the university results are issued, they will be able to register with the council and start working in the shortest time possible.

Through this call, the spokesperson told this newsroom, 24 nurses who are already registered had already been recruited.

Excluding the 108 nurses starting work on Monday, there are currently 3,244 nurses working in the public sector, the spokesperson said. This is an increase on the same statistic for 2012, when there were 2,700 nurses employed in the public sector.

The spokesperson pointed out that in 2006, the PN government had introduced numerous clauses in the nursing course which had led to fewer nurses graduating for a number of years, when only 30 students were admitted annually. This system was in place until 2011. 

The nursing sector has been under the microscope for the best part of 2018 with a number of disputes between the government and the Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses (MUMN).

In February, a dispute arose between the union and the government concerning roster problems at the Gozo General Hospital, which is operated by the private firm Steward Healthcare, but industrial action was averted following an agreement. In the same period, another one day strike in the operating theatres of Mater Dei Hospital due to a shortage of nurses was also averted.

However, country-wide industrial action was announced by the MUMN in early July following disputes over issues related to a retirement scheme for nurses and midwives, along with allowances and salaries.

The union had threatened similar industrial action the previous October because the government had refused to meet to discuss their proposals. This was averted after the government agreed to open negotiations with the union, and reached a preliminary agreement to discuss an Early Retirement Scheme among others.

The counter-proposals presented by the government seven months later however, were not adequate, according to the MUMN, based on four premises. The Early Retirement Scheme was removed from the discussion table, the figure of the Nursing Premium was still low, some grades in the salary structure were not compensated or compensated enough, and the miscellaneous points were not addressed in the document.

The union had pointed out that there were "substantial shortages" in the nursing force, which they calculated to be 550 nurses in all hospitals. This number is calculated according to figures from 15 years ago and if studies had to be conducted today, they would show an even graver crisis in nursing, the Union had said.

Addressing the press in July, the union's secretary Colin Galea cited numerous examples which showed the alarming lack of nurses. At Mount Carmel Hospital, there are not enough nurses to keep a constant watch on all patients; as a result, there have been cases of patients escaping. In operating theatres at Mater Dei Hospital, numerous operations are being cancelled every week due to the lack of nurses, while in the Intensive Therapy Unit, the internationally established ratio of having one nurse per patient is very rarely adhered to.

The directives came into force on 5 July, and were only withdrawn two days later on 7 July after the government and the union came to terms on the main points.

Following the addition of the 108 new nurses the government, the spokesperson said "is fully committed to fill nurses' vacancies in order to provide even better care for our patients and also provide optimum working conditions for the nurses themselves".

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