The Malta Independent 16 May 2022, Monday

TMIS Editorial: Free the nurse, sue the state

Sunday, 8 May 2022, 16:06 Last update: about 8 days ago

A senior nurse is unfairly facing criminal charges over what is nothing short than a failure of the health system.

Joseph Pace is expected to be arraigned in July on charges of criminal misconduct, in a case going back to 2017. At the time, a patient at the mental health hospital had self-harmed but his life was saved by Pace and other colleagues.

However, after the conclusions of a magisterial inquiry, the police decided to press charges against the veteran healthcare worker. The reasoning behind this is that the patient should have been monitored at all times, but it has been argued that there were simply not enough nurses available to do so. 

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The mental health hospital has over the years been plagued by many problems ranging from falling roofs, to infested kitchens to massive staff shortages.

Speaking at a press conference on Monday, Pace blamed staff shortages at the hospital, saying that he always had fewer nurses than were actually needed. Cases like this one happen often, he added.

The nursing manager was flanked by dozens of colleagues and members of the Malta Unions of Midwives and Nurses, several of whom were heard calling for the resignation of the health minister.

While we cannot go into the details of the case, the fact that the nurse is being backed by the nurses’ union, his colleagues and even Alliance for Mental Health speaks volumes.

The MUMN’s Paul Pace said it is “beyond shocking” that such accusations are levelled against a man who is loved and cared for by many in this facility, and who is considered as a hero by both staff and patients.

The Alliance for Mental Health also described Pace as a “pillar of resilience and support for patients and staff for over 40 years”.

“He is known to be a dedicated and conscientious health professional who, like other professionals in the field, works under extremely challenging circumstances and has always offered his utmost.”

Both the MUMN and A4MH said they have been flagging the short-staffing issues for years, adding that it was extremely unfair that an individual is being made to pay for a failure of the system. 

This is not to say that no one should bear responsibility for the incident which left a man injured.

But it is clear that responsibility in this case lies with the state and not with the nurse.

The entire health sector has over the years been plagued by chronic short staffing – an issue which has never been dealt with successfully. Poor working conditions, low pay and work overloads have contributed to a massive brain drain of nurses, with Maltese healthcare workers preferring to seek better conditions abroad.

Despite government saying that more people are graduating as nurses, this is not resulting in better staffing levels at our hospitals. Furthermore, the employment of dozens of foreign nurses, many of whom can barely speak English, has not improved the situation.

The unions have in fact been warning for years that the situation is unsustainable, that more workers are needed in the field. The situation has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has increased the strain on healthcare human resources.

Any nurse or doctor will tell you that the situation at all the health care centres and hospitals is dire, with short staffing being the order of the day.

Throughout the past couple of years, healthcare workers have been hailed as heroes for doing the impossible and facing the impossible task of working round the clock to save lives, while putting their own safety at risk. Yet, now we have a case where one of these workers is facing criminal charges over an incident that stems from chronic short staffing.

Such cases will only serve to dissuade people from seeking a career in healthcare and the situation will only get worse.

Government must step in and address this situation before more damage is done. It must do so by taking responsibility and admitting that this case is its own fault. It must reassure healthcare workers that it is behind them every step of the way, that it has their back and will not leave them hanging, especially in cases where they are not at fault.

Unfortunately, we have heard nothing but silence from the government so far.

 

 

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