Times Editorial - strong criticism of MAM - 20/7/2005

link to article in The TIMES

At the service of the patient
The statements made by the Medical Association of Malta over the past days about a "privileged doctor" receiving six times the amount his colleagues were earning for the same work is not only an attack on a member of the same fraternity but also an indictment on itself.

The MAM warned the government it would take the action it deems fit to ensure that EU and Maltese legislation is respected after Health Minister Louis Deguara said in Parliament that a doctor in the national health service received a salary that was much higher than what is paid to the other Maltese doctors.

This higher paid doctor, the MAM added, is of Maltese birth, holds a British passport and enjoyed an annual salary of Lm45,000. (It now appears this figure is incorrect and should stand at Lm35,000).

The doctor in question, it went on, did not pay tax on this amount and, in effect, he was receiving the equivalent of Lm60,000 gross.

It is opportune to name this "privileged person". He is invasive cardiac surgeon Alex Manché whose credentials, abilities and absolute loyalty to his patients - not those attending his private practice, mind you, because he has none, but the multitude who seek his service at the state hospital - are known to all and have almost become legendary. The government and the Health Division in particular must be proud of having succeeded in acquiring the services of such a dedicated person who is known to form life-long friendships with his patients.

Many of Dr Manché's patients owe their life to him and many more will tell you he was always there when they needed him, any time of the day, any day during the week.

Let nobody run away with the idea that Dr Manché is the only good doctor in the house. There are many other dedicated and loyal medical practitioners but because of the nature of their work and the conditions they agreed to they cannot constantly give their full attention to their patients within the national health service, as he does. This point ought to have been raised by the MAM in its public declarations if it wanted to compare like with like.

It is possible the tax compliance unit did not feel the need to investigate Dr Manché, as the MAM implied, because his income is wholly declared once he does not have a private practice.

"The Health Division just cannot pick and choose a doctor and offer him vastly superior remuneration," the MAM also said. Why not? You pay peanuts and you get monkeys. You issue a call for applications and have to limit your choice to whoever decides to apply, ending up with having to select an applicant that may not be exactly up to the standards you required.

Yet, the MAM argues that "the fact that this shameful and unjust act of discrimination has been perpetuated for over 10 years does not justify its continuation". Does it mean that for 10 whole years the doctors' union failed in its representations over the matter?

Top specialists and consultants are not easy to come by and they cost money. So if the state wants the best for its people then it must pay good money and, yes, offer special packages. The Maltese people deserve it and the MAM should insist on it, negotiate better deals for its members and using successful deals as Dr Manché's to substantiate its claims.

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