Minister makes statement on social cases at SLH - 20/2/2005

cases in hospital becoming chronic
Cynthia Busuttil

Social cases are contributing to the overcrowding at St Luke's Hospital. Picture: Chris Sant Fournier

Social cases are contributing to overcrowding at St Luke's Hospital, where there are now 76 elderly patients who have no reason being there other than their age.

The hospital authorities, therefore, had to provide a number of extra beds that had to be squeezed in the eight medical wards, as well as the surgical and orthopaedic wards. An average of 47 beds a day were needed in the first 11 days of February and demand reached its peak last Tuesday when the number of extra beds hit 84.

Figures released by the Health Ministry yesterday showed that the average occupancy rate in the first few days of this month stood at 117.3 per cent, almost one per cent over the average occupancy rate last month.

Addressing a press conference yesterday, Health Minister Louis Deguara said that if all social cases were grouped together they would fill more than two hospital wards.

Dr Deguara said attempts were made not to place patients in corridors. He said a plan was drawn up and adhered to during the cold months of the year and patients were not only accommodated in the medical wards but also in the surgical and orthopaedic wards.

However, this decision was not without repercussions and a number of non-urgent operations had to be postponed. He said: "We have long orthopaedic waiting lists and arriving at this point meant we really did not have many alternatives".

He said that although the social cases phenomenon was previously felt only in winter, this was continuing throughout the year.

The plan that was devised calls for solutions to social cases outside St Luke's Hospital. Dr Deguara said one of the proposals was to open a new ward specifically for social cases at Mount Carmel Hospital, which would be isolated from the rest of the wards. This, he said, could also help ease the stigma that Mount Carmel had.

Another measure was to add a bed in each of the 27 wards at St Vincent de Paul Residence for the elderly, which is already full to capacity.

The minister said that when Mater Dei Hospital becomes operational, an alternative would be to use the Karin Grech wing at St Luke's- which had initially been built specifically to cater for elderly people - to house social cases.

He appealed to relatives of patients, especially elderly folk, to help integrate the patients back into the community when they no longer needed to stay in hospital. He said there had been times when elderly persons were "dumped" at the Casualty Department and hospital staff spent days trying to determine their identity and what medical care was required.

"We do not want to become a dumping ground for those who do not want to take care of their relatives. It is a tremendous irresponsibility to put an elderly person on a wheelchair, take him to casualty and leave without telling anyone of the person's name or condition," he said.

Social cases are considered to be patients who do not need to stay in hospital but cannot go home because they have no family network to look after them.

Recently, such patients started to contribute 80 per cent of their pension towards the cost of their stay in hospital but the fact that they were paying did not cut down the numbers, the parliamentary secretary responsible for the elderly, Helen D'Amato, said. She insisted, however, that payment was not meant to act as a deterrent for social cases not to remain in hospital.

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