The Malta Independent 18 June 2024, Tuesday
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Spend €40m on patients, not Hollywood – MAM president

Isaac Saliba Sunday, 27 August 2023, 08:30 Last update: about 11 months ago

Makeshift wards should be a temporary solution to the space problems being encountered at Mater Dei Hospital, the president of the Medical Association of Malta, Martin Balzan, told The Malta Independent on Sunday.

It would have been better to spend €40m on patients, rather than Hollywood, he quipped, an obvious reference to the controversy about the €46.7m that the government is to give in cash rebates to the company producing the Gladiator sequel film.

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Balzan said that what is needed is a proper extension to Mater Dei Hospital, “with proper wards – meaning privacy, hygiene, toilet facilities, everything a modern hospital deserves”.

He added that some of the makeshift wards don’t have ventilation and lack light. “They’re not designed as wards,” he said.

Makeshift wards started to be used mostly during the Covid-19 pandemic, a situation which pushed the government into taking short-term solutions to combat the spread of the disease.

Space at the hospital was converted into temporary wards and intensive care units as Malta saw an increase in the number of people who needed hospital treatment as a result of the pandemic. In the early months of the spread of the Covid-19 virus, the government had even considered the building of a temporary hospital close to the Mater Dei complex, an idea that was later shelved.

But, although the pandemic is now over, makeshift wards continue to be used in the hospital. In April, Times of Malta reported that a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health had said that the makeshift wards used during the Covid era had proved effective and would begin seeing improvements to meet acceptable standards and be used as permanent wards.

Balzan is of a different opinion.

“We are in crisis mode,” he said. “We have six wards which are designed for times of crisis, but we are using them all the time and they are not proper wards.” He added that he agrees with improving them to make them as suitable as possible short-term, but that a serious infrastructure investment for the long-term is urgently needed.

“What irks me, I would have spent the €40m not on sponsoring Hollywood but on sponsoring our patients. We want long-term investment – first €400m went on the private hospitals deal, now another €40m went to Hollywood,” he said

Balzan was referring to the €400m awarded to Vitals and Steward Healthcare between 2016 and 2021 when the government transferred three public hospitals to the private sector. The deal has since been rescinded by a court of law and last May Balzan had told The Malta Independent on Sunday that unless a serious attempt is made to try to recover the money, then the suspicion of a cover-up grows.

In March, Prime Minister Robert Abela had written to the Auditor General requesting an investigation into the money passed on to Steward Healthcare as part of a hospitals’ concession. Abela’s specific request followed allegations that the government paid €400m to Steward Healthcare and received nothing in return.

The Malta Independent on Sunday also reached out to the general secretary of the Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses, who said that the MUMN has not been informed of any improvements made in makeshift wards. He explained that these wards were meant to be used temporarily during the pandemic.

“At the moment we know that there are a considerable number of elderly at Mater Dei, around 90 people, who are supposed to be in elderly people’s homes.” He said that he does not know why these people have not been moved to an elderly institution. “As it stands they are filling up these wards and making it harder for Mater Dei and the staff.”

Galea was asked for his thoughts regarding an expansion to Mater Dei. “In terms of nurses, midwives and other related professions, I think it’s pointless to have a five-star hotel when you don’t have the necessary workers for it – at the end of the day they’re giving you the service, not a machine.” He said that there is a significant lack of nurses and that this issue needs to be addressed.

MUMN president Paul Pace recently expressed his concern regarding a lack of resources at Mater Dei following revelations from the magisterial inquiry into the death of Doctor Mario Rizzo Naudi. Pace said that the recommended EU standard is six nurses per 24 patients, while the inquiry had established there were only three nurses with 23 patients at the time of Rizzo Naudi’s death. Galea said that there is a lack of nurses everywhere and that everyone is feeling the pressure. “You have three being overworked, doing the work of six.”

“From day one, we were saying that this is not a hospital intended to be acute,” Galea said about Mater Dei. “There’s a long story beginning in 1994 or 1995. There has always been a feeling that there needs to be an expansion, but more than that I feel that there needs to be more professionals. It’s pointless to expand if you already have a lack of workers for the hospitals as it is.”

Balzan said that when it comes to doctor availability, he thinks that at the moment they are able to meet the patient needs at Mater Dei. “At the moment we are coping. From our point of view the main shortcoming is space and infrastructure.”

Galea said that he thinks the staffing situation at Mater Dei will improve once the agreement the government has reached with the MUMN on a new collective agreement is signed and put into action. “For the first time the agreement was aimed at nurses in particular so they don’t leave the profession. It was also aimed towards nurses of a certain age to keep them in the profession along with attracting youths to the field.”

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