The Malta Independent 22 July 2024, Monday
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Promised medical school still in shell form nine months past planned completion date

Kyle Patrick Camilleri Sunday, 24 September 2023, 08:30 Last update: about 11 months ago

The promised 8,000m2 medical school, which construction was halted in November last year, is now nine months past its planned completion date, still in shell form and disputes over its funding have left University of Malta’s health students without their own educational facilities.

Health students are now worrying that the educational amenities that had been taken away from them because more space for patients was needed at Mater Dei Hospital during the Covid-19 pandemic may not be compensated for any time soon as initially promised by the government.

This medical school was announced in 2019 and was to eventually replace the facilities used both on the University Campus and at Mater Dei Hospital by the Faculty of Health Sciences and the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery.

When the Faculty of Health Sciences was contacted, a representative stated that they had nothing to do with the project and there was still an uncertainty as to whether the faculty would be moving into the new complex, if and when completed, highlighting the lack of communication with the affected parties.

In a story first published by Newsbook in November 2022, the health student associations Malta Health Students’ Association (MHSA) and Malta Medical Students’ Association (MMSA), had already expressed their concerns regarding this project; it had been promised that the medical school would be up and running in December 2022, yet by 30 November of that year, the building was still in shell form.

Things have not changed much since.

The Malta Independent on Sunday contacted the two associations that represent the affected students of this held-up project, the MHSA and the MMSA.

The MHSA noted that “student life has been impacted drastically” as a result of this delay. It was explained to this newsroom that present facilities available for healthcare students consist of an open courtyard – that does not provide any shelter from harsh rainfall or sunshine – and a small number of classrooms shared between hundreds of students. As a result, since these classrooms are used for conducting lectures and for students wishing to revise in a quiet nearby place, these rooms are often fully booked and unavailable, thus forcing them to seek to go elsewhere.

The MHSA described how if health students seek to convene, they often need to go from their faculties located in the hospital, all the way down to the Campus Hub or the University itself. They also noted that the limiting of free space has hindered opportunity for students to socialise with one another. They also explained how their “lack of quiet spaces and indoor shelter for students forming part of the previously mentioned faculties does not provide a healthy studying environment”.

Both associations told The Malta Independent on Sunday that no communication has been provided to them on the state of the school’s construction, its progress or lack thereof, or on a new potential completion date, despite being well past its deadline. Moreover, it was noted that prior to their joint statement last November, the majority of students were unaware that a medical school was meant to be built.

The MMSA expressed the association’s disappointment in the fact that “healthcare students are not being given the educational facilities we deserve”.

The MMSA said that “improving the healthcare of our islands starts with investing in the students who will one day take care of our population, and giving them the adequate facilities to grow and thrive. This lack of investment and care for such a vital part of the workforce of tomorrow has left many students feeling confused, frustrated and betrayed by the authorities who should be safeguarding and working to improve our education”.

Health students have lost the space that they had before the pandemic. Since it broke in 2020, their staff cafeteria and student library have been converted into makeshift wards in order to deal with the high influx of patients at Mater Dei Hospital. Following the end of the Covid-19 pandemic, these makeshift wards have been retained as high influxes of patients have remained.

It was reported that the makeshift ward MIU6, which previously was the aforementioned staff canteen, was source to various complaints by admitted patients, such as lack of privacy through a lack of separation curtains, lack of furniture, piled-up debris being visible inside the ward, as well as reports of a foul smell of drainage that emitted from the mobile showers present through the placed cubicles; this stench had reportedly forced sick patients to stand outside while waiting for the issue to be resolved.

The MMSA said that the construction of the medical school would free up space at Mater Dei that can be utilised to develop more adequate wards and healthcare facilities.

As these premises have been taken away from students and staff from this section within the University of Malta, students said this project should have already began contributing to their overall educational experience.

Both associations detailed how the proposed medical school was set to enhance major parts of their educational experience.

Aside from being a solution for the lack of room availability and communal areas, the MHSA said the medical school was planned to improve the scheduling flexibility of lectures and save time for students who currently need to go to Mater Dei Hospital just to attend different lectures. Furthermore, it was also envisioned to enhance learning experiences through the development of updated simulation rooms with modern equipment; current simulation rooms were described to be outdated in their present state.

The MMSA said that these new medical simulation rooms are “absolutely essential” for certain professions within the healthcare sector. Moreover, they stated their belief that better student education will lead to better healthcare for patients in the long run.

The MMSA also expressed frustration because of the lack of facilities “especially when considering that the Barts medical school also benefits from taxpayer funding and is significantly more equipped”.

This newsroom also contacted the previous MMSA president, Nicholas Galea, who is also a student representative on the Faculty Board for the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery, for his comments. He was president of the Association when the aforementioned joint statement was published by health students last year.

Galea said that he and his fellow students feel extremely confused as to what is truly going on since different agencies provided him with different responses. He lacks faith that anyone really understands what is going on.

He also detailed that feedback on this lack of funding has been either bleak or led to even more confusion. Galea described how following the health students’ shared statement last November, a meeting occurred between students, the University rector and the Education minister; unfortunately, such confusion continued.

He described how during this meeting, students were asked to assess different options for the medical school, such as having it as intended near the Campus Hub, building it instead of one of the University’s car parks (CP6) or even considering repurposing another building on campus.

It was described that the relevant authorities never reached out to students since then, despite promising to organise a follow-up meeting.

The MHSA said that this issue “stems from the failure on part of the government to exercise its duty of caring and putting in the effort for students, all of whom will eventually be working for the best interest of society, that is, the health of the public”.

The MMSA commented: “We were once promised some of the best medical education facilities in Europe with the building of this medical school, however, due to the lack of funding we are now left with inadequate facilities.” They elaborated that they believe “it is shameful that Maltese healthcare students, who are devoting their time and efforts to learning how to take care of the community, and who will be themselves taking care of our population in the future, to be repaid with this negligence”.

The former president is shocked that no one is taking accountability in this project’s delay.

Deputy Prime Minister Chris Fearne had promised while initially announcing this school in 2019 that: “Once this new medical school is up and running, the Maltese islands will have two of the best facilities in Europe.” Though despite this, Galea detailed that he and his fellow students have instead been left with “a space that definitely isn’t large enough to accommodate all medical students studying at the University of Malta; a half-completed building that is currently being used as a giant advertising board for Campus Hub’s commercial stores and space within Mater Dei Hospital that is desperately needed to accommodate more patients given the increasing healthcare needs of an ageing population”.

When asked about the issue, the Health Ministry referred this newspaper to the Education Ministry. Questions were sent to the Education Ministry but no reply was received.

 

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