link to article in The TIMES
Ministry defends new system at health centres
The introduction of an appointment system at local health centres was not a "desperate move to relieve the impact of the shortage of doctors", a spokesman for the Health Ministry said yesterday.
The aim, he told The Times, was to provide better care to patients and spread the day's workload more evenly through the clinic's opening hours.
The Medical Association of Malta's general secretary, Martin Balzan, claimed on Wednesday that there were 65 doctors missing from the full complement at health centres, adding that this was the reason behind the introduction of an appointments system.
The ministry spokesman, however, denied that the number of missing doctors was 65. Although he did not give a figure for the missing doctors, he explained that when all eight health centres were open around the clock, the estimated complement was 110. Currently four of the centres are open day and night, with the other four closed at night and at weekends, he said. "There are currently 61 full-time general practitioners working in health centres, eight GPs working on half-time basis and another two working on three-quarters time. In addition, there are eight medical officers on rotation work. This is a far cry from the 65 missing doctors claimed by Dr Balzan."
He added that these figures did not include doctors on paternal or maternity leave and senior medical officers.
The spokesman said the Health Division will soon be issuing calls for applications for general practice trainees.
Lately the MAM has been at loggerheads with the government about the remuneration and working conditions of two cardiac surgeons. The association complains that although cardiac surgeons Alexander Manché and Walter Busuttil do the same job, Mr Manché enjoys more favourable conditions. A legal letter on behalf of Mr Busuttil and MAM was sent to the government requesting a remedy for the "existing discrimination".
When questioned on this, the spokesman said the Health Division did not agree with the arguments being put forward by the association and believed that the situation was legally correct.
However, the spokesman did not want to comment further considering that it might become a legal matter.
The spokesman also said that it would be interesting to know on what facts MAM president Stephen Fava was basing his claim that government was playing on people's feelings considering that no statements on this matter had been issued by the government.
During a press conference on Wednesday, Dr Balzan complained that a specialist was not always present at the Ear, Nose and Throat section in hospital, leaving the junior doctor on duty to seek assistance in cases of emergencies.
Asked about this, the ministry spokesman said a call for applications for a senior registrar within the department had been made. He explained that there were currently four consultants at the ENT, backed by a senior registrar.
Another call for applications was made to recruit surgery senior registrars for the Gozo General Hospital.
A vacancy arose after one of the senior registrars in surgery at the hospital resigned to take up a post abroad. The MAM had voiced concern that this would leave only one surgeon to work at the Gozo hospital and asked how the hospital would cope when this surgeon was on vacation leave or needed to take sick leave.
The spokesman said a locum surgeon to deputise for the absent doctor was expected to start working at the Gozo hospital as from today.