MAM reaction to Media Comments - 27/7/2005

link to article in The TIMES
Discriminatory treatment of doctors
Stephen Fava, President, Medical Association of Malta.

I thank Leo Said, Alfred Debattista (July 22) and Joe Bonello (July 23) for their contributions on the above-mentioned topic that has been brought to public attention by MAM.

The main thrust in both Mr Debattista's and Mr Bonello's letters is that Mr Manché is a first-class cardiac surgeon and therefore he deserves every penny he gets. MAM agrees wholeheartedly and never stated otherwise. It was, after all, only certain sections of the press that personalised the issue in a desperate attempt to sidetrack the public from the real issue, which is the indefensible discriminatory treatment of consultants by the Health Division.

The point raised by Dr Said that the different remuneration can possibly be justified because Mr Manché does not do private work is a dangerous one as it implies that a consultant who is underpaid because he does private work in some way is expected to offer an inferior service. The truth is that most doctors offer an excellent service in spite of the low remuneration. This is evidenced by the very high throughput in all departments, health outcomes statistics and patient satisfaction and has also been confirmed by the Ministry of Health. Indeed, in the same issue of The Times (July 22), a correspondent publicly thanked an orthopaedic surgeon and his team for his hard work and dedication.

The Health Division is already losing many of its doctors, which is resulting in ever increasing waiting lists. The country cannot afford this to continue. The division cannot pick one consultant and offer him a decent salary, while the rest are offered peanuts. Are orthopaedic patients less important than cardiac ones? Are lives saved by doctors in all specialties less worth saving than those of cardiac patients? Mr Debattista asks what would happen to cardiac transplant patients if it were not for Mr Manché, and says that it would turn out to be more expensive for the government as it would need to send these patients abroad. But the same could be said about the local doctors in the renal transplant team, orthopaedic surgeons doing joint replacements, physicians dealing with complex medical problems previously treated by foreign consultants. In fact, because of a bilateral agreement with the UK, treatment abroad to Maltese residents is offered free of charge in exchange for the hundreds of British tourists treated freely at St Luke's Hospital every year.

Isn't it shameful that the only way that the government could pay a decent salary to one of its doctors was by way of his foreign passport? Where is the action, as opposed to words, that shows that the government appreciates that Malta's best resource is its human resource? Now, by government's own promises, we are all equal EU citizens - so it has to put its money where its mouth is. And that was also why MAM, until EU accession, could not challenge this.

MAM has been repeatedly telling the government that this state of affairs of paying peanuts and the resulting brain drain cannot be allowed to continue. The country cannot afford to wait for the health system to collapse before the government wakes up to these realities and offers decent conditions to all doctors without discrimination. MAM cannot wait for ever for this to happen.

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