MAM comments on - 18/4/2005

Brain drain - getting the priorities right
Dr Martin Balzan, general secretary, the Medical Association of Malta, Gzira.

link to The Times article

The recent spate of letters from various sources significantly substantiates MAM's position, warning the government on the worsening situation on medical manpower. The health authorities must act fast and effectively on this issue before it is too late.

The figures are very alarming. Over 80 per cent of doctors who graduated in 1999 have left the country, while 50 per cent of the 2001 cohort have already taken the plunge. It is the Maltese patient who stands to lose most as Malta donates its most precious assets to richer EU countries.

Malta's EU accession has opened great opportunities for our best brains. It is no longer sufficient for the government to justify mediocre work conditions, pathetic pay on the excuse that doctors are allowed to practise privately. Maltese specialists have the opportunity to earn up to ten times their local salary in the UK. Surprisingly though, the UK's gross domestic product is less than double that of Malta. Perhaps the UK authorities manage to get their priorities right.

In this context it comes as no surprise that the government is also finding it increasingly difficult to replace Maltese doctors by East Europeans as in the past. Not only is it becoming difficult to recruit such doctors but even those already in Malta and who have served the Maltese community so well, are also leaving for countries offering far better working conditions.

As an EU country, Malta is obliged to provide young medical graduates with local post-graduate training and to not rely on another country to provide it. There is no doubt that the bulk of post-graduate training can be done locally in most specialities, and that there are very capable Maltese specialists who can deliver this training.

However, the health authorities have been slow and passive on these issues and they have not allocated any financial resources for post-graduate training. Also, it seems that the government has decided to freeze all "registrar" training positions in an effort to save a handful of liri. The Management and Personnel Office in the Office of the Prime Minister has also failed to put into effect a scheme for better career progression in anaesthesia and other specialities, even though this had been agreed to with the health division over a year ago.

This severe and ever increasing shortage of doctors is resulting in long waiting times at the accident and emergency, health centres and elsewhere as well as unacceptably long waiting lists for most operations. A number of surgical operations have had to be postponed.

Our government is getting its priorities wrong. It is ready to spend Lm200 million for a "Ferrari" hospital, then has no money for its fuel - "medical manpower".

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