MAM press release as reported in - 11/4/2005

Overcrowding at St Luke's 'postpones operations'
Massimo Farrugia

link to The Times article

The Medical Association of Malta has expressed concern that a "large" number of operations at St Luke's Hospital have been postponed due to overcrowding in medical wards and a shortage of anaesthetists.

Patients may have to wait from a few weeks to up to two years for an operation but since the beginning of the year their waiting has been prolonged because foreign anaesthetists have left Malta "to seek greener pastures in the European Union," according to MAM general secretary Martin Balzan.

Most foreign anaesthetists who worked for the Health Department came from Eastern European countries that joined the EU last year. A good number were seeking employment in countries like Germany where they would be "closer to home", Dr Balzan said.

The MAM general secretary said a number of "social cases" were also to blame for overcrowding in medical wards, explaining that this was another factor causing the cancellation of operations.

Usually elderly citizens who are admitted to hospitals and abandoned by their relatives, "social cases" are patients who remain at St Luke's because there is no space for them at St Vincent de Paul and other government-run homes for the elderly.

"Services are being curtailed for problems which could have been anticipated and resolved," Dr Balzan said.

The MAM believes that if the government does not improve geriatric services immediately, the social cases problem will be carried to tal-Qroqq when Mater Dei Hospital opens.

"The government needs to recognise that the medical manpower shortage is getting worse by the day. There is a very serious brain drain going on, as more and more doctors become disillusioned by unsatisfactory conditions of work," Dr Balzan said.

Health Director General Ray Busuttil said in reply to Dr Balzan's claims that the cancellation of operations was not due to these social cases but due to "the large number of acutely ill patients that were admitted to hospital during the cold spell we have had over the past weeks.

"There are 78 social cases at St Luke's, which is what we expect at this time of the year," Dr Busuttil said.

When asked by The Times about the brain drain of anaesthetists and whether the government was finding it difficult to replace those who had left, Dr Busuttil said the Health Department was in the process of recruiting replacements.

"Some overseas anaesthetists have been identified and their qualifications are currently being evaluated by the Medical Council," he said.

On the MAM's claim that trainee doctors were leaving Malta due to unattractive working conditions, Dr Busuttil said doctors moved overseas because a significant proportion of training could not be done locally.

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