The Times Editorial on MAM motion
Trade unions rightly insist on consultation. However "consultation" seems to have different meanings to different people. The problem often lies in the fact that more often than not the sectoral interest comes before the national good.
The most recent case of "failed" consultation has just happened in the health sector, an area where, no doubt, the national interest must prevail at all costs.
It now transpires that the health authorities had given advance notice to the players directly involved in the sector about the sort of new working conditions that would prevail when the health sector is reformed, as it must. This consisted in a set of proposals contained in a document which has been circulated among the unions representing the workers in the sector but which is still unpublished.
The unions were given until the end of November to give their reactions, so that talks could then start. But no sooner had that deadline expired that the Medical Association of Malta said the document shows an absolute lack of respect towards the medical profession.
The MAM also commented that the document fails to recognise the valuable and dedicated service which the medical profession continues to provide "but instead unashamedly proposes completely unacceptable measures which would definitely result in a deterioration of patient care".
Finally, the doctors' union concludes that what is contained in the document cannot in any way form any basis for further discussions.
In the circumstances, the government should without delay publish the document because the people have a right to know what is being proposed. They would then be in a good position to draw an informed opinion of whether the proposals can be considered as basis for further discussions or not.
The MAM considered the document to show an absolute lack of respect towards the medical profession and that the proposals would "definitely result in a deterioration of patient care".
Comments made by the Health Ministry over the weekend in response to the MAM statement indicate that the aim behind the exercise is not to discuss a collective agreement for a given sector, in this case, medical doctors, but rather to hammer out new practices applicable to the medical services in general. It has also been announced by the ministry that the ultimate aim is to make the service, which, admittedly, is already of a high calibre, more patient-centred.
Is the government proposing to impose its diktat on such an essential service or is the modern trend of having the state, the practitioners and the users assume joint ownership of the service being mooted?
Does the document refer to private practice and if so what is it proposing? For the sake of the taxpayers and especially those unable to afford private medical care one augurs that while such private practice will continue to be allowed more accountability will be demanded and a lot more control exercised.
Having said that, the public expects doctors in national employ to be well paid and enjoy top conditions in line with their responsibilities and commitment. But likewise the people rightfully demand a high quality national health service with all medics and paramedics paid from taxpayers' funds being always at their service. Patients should always come first.