Daphne on surgeon's salary - 24/7/2005

link to article in The Independent

The battle between the Medical Association of Malta and the government, about the difference between the salaries paid to heart surgeons Walter Busuttil and Alexander Manche, rather misses the point. The doctors’ union appears to be suggesting that Mr Manche is paid too much, instead of sticking to the point that Mr Busuttil is paid too little, and in doing so it has turned this into a war of unseemly comparisons between the two. It is not even clear what the association’s demands are. Does it want Mr Manche to be paid as little as Mr Busuttil, or does it want Mr Busuttil to be paid as much as Mr Manche? Somehow, I doubt it’s the latter, for reasons that have everything to do with human nature. As I intuit it, the association probably deems a fair solution to be the chopping of Mr Manche’s salary by half, and paying Mr Busuttil the same.

Mr Manche is not paid too much. He is gifted, dedicated, much appreciated by all those whose lives he has saved, and by international and private practice standards he is paid too little. One does not compare the salary paid to such a man, who daily holds the balance between the life and death of those entrusted to his care, with the salary of a company general manager and say, “Iz-Zift! X’balla liri jaqla!” (Wow! He’s very well paid). To do that is to put one’s ignorance on display. How much better it would have been if this embarrassing squabble had been conducted with something approaching dignity and grace. There was absolutely no need to draw comparisons between the salaries paid to Mr Busuttil and Mr Manche. Mr Busuttil should be paid much, much more not because of what Mr Manche is paid, but because at around Lm8000 a year for such great responsibility, and after so many years of training, his salary is pitifully, shamefully inadequate. It would be so even if Mr Manche were earning exactly the same amount.

Mr Busuttil’s salary needs to be revised upwards, and drastically so, regardless of Mr Manche. It should be done simply because heart surgeons should not be paid as much as personal assistants to the managing director, or super-efficient secretaries. Mr Manche should have been left out of this battle, which is strictly between the government, and Mr Busuttil and the doctors’ union. If the doctors’ union felt that it had to draw him into the fray, then there is only one decent way in which it may have done so. This is by saying: “Mr Manche is paid X, which salary we believe to be commensurate with his responsibilities. It is our belief that Mr Busuttil, who has the same responsibilities, should be paid the same amount.”

Instead, the whole thing has come across as a woeful attempt to reduce Mr Manche’s salary to the level of Mr Busuttil’s, and there is a nasty whiff of envy in the air. One gets the impression that the Medical Association of Malta does not quite think that Mr Manche should be paid what he is paid. Perhaps it needs reminding that it represents all doctors, rather than one doctor against another, and that it shouldn’t victimise those who are adequately compensated merely because others are not.

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