The Malta Independent 16 August 2022, Tuesday

Updated (2): Nurses shortage jeopardising safety of patients - MUMN

Thursday, 30 June 2022, 10:53 Last update: about 3 months ago

The Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses said the incident of a man who went missing from St Vincent de Paul home for the elderly confirms what the union has been saying for months – that the shortage of nurses is jeopardising the safety of patients.

In a statement, the MUMN said that the ward from where this person has been reported missing hosts 35 residents (as the authorities choose to refer to them - in reality these persons are all patients since they all require some type of health care, and SVPR is a hospital in all but its nomenclature and classification). 


On Wednesday, the government said an internal investigation has been launched after an elderly man went missing from St Vincent de Paul residence. Earlier, the police said 83-year-old Karmenu Fino had gone missing. He was last seen in Luqa on Tuesday afternoon.

In its statement Thursday, the MUMN said that according to an agreement between MUMN and SVPR Management, such a ward should be manned by a minimum of two nurses but, due to a chronic lack of nurses, on the day of the incident only one nurse (from the reliever pool, and not a nurse who habitually works in this ward) was assigned to this ward. 

This shortage of nurses has spurred MUMN to initiate industrial action intended to jolt the authorities that be to take the necessary actions in order to effectively remedy the situation, but, as usual, "the Government, rather than rolling up its sleeves and doing the job which it is duty-bound to do, resorted to another favourite ploy to take MUMN to court in order to stop it from pursuing its industrial actions". 

In the course of the hearing which was held last Monday, MUMN, through its lawyer Chris Cilia LL.D., rebutted all arguments brought forth by the three lawyers assigned to assist the Health Ministry and gave evidence in no uncertain terms of the various management deficiencies which are not being addressed and for which nurses are time and time again serving as a scapegoat, the union said. 

The nurses complement has now reached a critical level and unless theovernment takes the necessary measures to effectively remedy this chronic problem, one can only expect a repetition of such incidents.

Furthermore, it is to be point out that MUMN has formally requested SVPR management to put aside all statements made to date by nurses on this case, which statements have been coaxed under duress and without allowing these nurses to seek assistance from MUMN and/or their legal consultants, the union added.


Government requests study on nurse shortage

Reacting to the MUMN’s claims, Health Minister Chris Fearne noted that an internal investigation is underway and said one should wait until the process is concluded. He also noted that SVP falls under the responsibility of the ministry for the elderly.

He conceded, however, that Malta is experiencing a shortage of nurses as it ramps the number of health services offered to the public.

Fearne said that, over the past five years, some 430 nurses left the job before reaching retirement age, but the government has employed some 900 new nurses during the same period.

“Nonetheless, it is important to employ more nurses so that we can keep increasing health services in Malta.”

He said that the health department ensures that all newly graduated nurses are allowed to start working with immediate effect. Malta has also asked the World Health Organisation to conduct a study on why fewer young people are choosing a nursing career.  

“This shortage of nurses is being felt across the world, particularly in countries that have advanced health systems.”

Fearne said the study will help the government address this problem in a “more proactive” manner.  


Government must take steps to avoid repeat incidents

In a statement, the Opposition urged the government to take act and take the necessary steps so that such a case does not repeat itself.

“It is shameful and of concern that there was only one nurse watching over a ward full of elderly people. Investigations are pointless if what the MUMN has claimed is normal practice in this home,” said Paula Mifsud Bonnici, the PN’s spokesperson for the elderly.

The PN said the authorities should find out how the man managed to exit the facility in the early hours of the morning without anyone noticing. It also asked why the government had not immediately declared that the missing person was an SVP resident.

“The elderly man is a vulnerable person and it is the administration’s duty to ensure that such people are kept in safe places. It is the government’s duty to ensure that our elderly are given the best protection, attention and care,” Mifsud Bonnici said.

The government, she said, must take the necessary steps, including addressing the shortage of nurses.

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