Parliament discusses medical certificate issue - 6/1/2004

Taken from "The Malta Independent" of the 19th December

The integrity of the medical profession was called into question in parliament during its last sitting on Tuesday evening.

Nationalist MP Antoine Mifsud Bonnici, who is a doctor, spoke about the alleged abuse in the issuing of medical certificates, and said that if this was happening, it is not a charge that should be levelled at all doctors.

Dr Mifsud Bonnici said Social Policy Minister Lawrence Gonzi had referred more than once to the fact that some doctors were abusing the system when issuing certificates for sick leave or invalidity. A measure to curb this abuse was announced in the budget.

“I am sure that if Minister Gonzi is taking this stand, he must have enough evidence that certain doctors are abusing the system when issuing certificates,” he said.

The Nationalist MP said that apart from representing his constituents in parliament, he is also a doctor and a member of the Medical Association of Malta, and he was therefore giving his views on the issue as both a doctor and as a politician.

“I have never agreed, and never will agree, with abusing the system of issuing medical certificates to the detriment of the Social Security Department. I agree with Minister Gonzi that the doctors who commit this abuse should be disciplined,” he said.

Dr Mifsud Bonnici said the abuse is being generalised, and an impression is being given that there is corruption among doctors. He said it was therefore his duty to defend the integrity of the majority of doctors who do not abuse their profession.

“The public is quick to generalise, and if you have 10 doctors in 700 who are abusing the system, the public will assume that the whole medical profession is corrupt,” he said. He reminded his fellow MPs about news reports of a few weeks ago that said the Health Division would discipline doctors who arrived late for work at St Luke’s Hospital. He said that following investigations, it had been determined that only three doctors were not justified for their tardiness, and added that he was hurt when the medical profession was unnecessarily tainted.

Dr Mifsud Bonnici said he was extremely satisfied that during the “dark days” when the country was facing the dispute between the Labour government and doctors in 1977, he had stood up for the doctors in parliament against the arrogance of those who were in government.

“At that time there was a feeling of lack of faith in Maltese doctors, fermented by the Labour government,” he said, adding that he remembers that era as a practising doctor.

Dr Mifsud Bonnici said he was not sure how widespread the abuse regarding medical certificates was but said that, as a general practitioner, he could speak on the subject from experience.

“I can assure everyone that no case is like another, and if a case of flu in one worker will need a three-day certificate, for another this will not be enough time in which to recover,” he said.

He pointed out that no doctor can go against what the doctor who is providing the treatment considers appropriate.

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