The Malta Independent 28 January 2023, Saturday
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Few things have changed

Noel Grima Sunday, 4 December 2022, 07:00 Last update: about 3 months ago

In 1998, driven by desperation, I wrote a letter to myself, a letter to the editor.

My mother had been taken to St Luke’s Hospital and there was another patient near her who did not let anyone sleep at night, shouting and moaning all night long.

After a sleepless night, with another night approaching, my mother pleaded with the nurses to find her somewhere else to sleep. At last they relented and took her to another ward. But she, a frail old woman of 84, was made to carry the bedclothes herself. And the next morning she was woken up at 5am and made to carry her bedclothes back.

So in desperation at this unwarranted humiliation I wrote a letter to the editor. Who was myself.

Nobody reacted, directly or indirectly. The next time my mother needed hospitalisation we took her to a private facility.

24 years later, countless governments later, an over-expensive and late new hospital later, the treatment offered at least in certain sectors is still not far removed from the bad old St Luke’s times.

This week around 25 elderly patients were amassed in a corridor turned into a ward, beneath ground level, in a windowless space, with just a metre separating one bed from the next.

With patients coughing all night long and possibly all kinds of infections flying around. And then some choice additions to the mix – a woman who shouts and orders the nurses around night and day, a male patient who was angry with the nurses, another male patient with swearwords the other patients had never heard in all their lives, a prisoner with a policeman guarding him. Not even my mother in bad old St Luke’s had it so bad.

It must be said too that the nursing staff, both Maltese and Third Country Nationals, are sweetness itself.

It was this week too that we learned the cause of all this. The nurses' union issued a directive stopping any relocation of patients to St Vincent de Paule hospital as a reaction at disciplinary action against a nurse blamed for allowing an elderly patient with dementia to get out and later die. As a result, while there are some 170 empty beds awaiting patients at SVDP, patients at Mater Dei are crowded together.

We are still suffering from the bad decisions taken by successive governments. The first is the size of the hospital. Eddie Fenech Adami, pressured by Dun Charles Vella, opted for the San Raffaele model from Milan. The new hospital was never meant to be Malta’s new hospital but a secondary one.

But Alfred Sant, immediately succeeding Eddie, listened to the consultants who told him they could not switch from one hospital to the other (they apparently do not have any difficulty switching to their private practice) and on the strength of, as I remember, a three-page memo, decided Mater Dei to be Malta’s main hospital.

As a result, Mater Dei is too small to requirements especially in winter time. For structural reasons no extra storeys can be built. The hospital is badly planned – it has limited car parking space and not an underground bus interchange as a result of which people especially the elderly have to endure the scorching sun in summer and keen cold winds in winter. And meanwhile Malta’s overall population has continued to grow and grow.

Meanwhile the government, instead of addressing the problems listed above (and instead of continuing building the medical school), chooses Christmas time to pass a law that decriminalises abortion under some circumstances. A reason for the urgency could be the maxim that it is expedient that unpalatable decisions are taken early in a legislature so people will have grown used to them by the time the next election comes round.

As a result, people are up in arms, which may also be the government’s real intention, to divert attention from all those charges of corruption both in Malta and elsewhere.

This government, like others before it, always tells different audiences what it feels they want to hear, running with the hares in Europe where it can parade the pro-choice agenda while the prime minister tells people here that abortion is still banned.


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