Doctors' action may affect CHOGM contingency plans - 6/11/2005

link to article in The Times

Doctors' action may affect CHOGM contingency plans
Cynthia Busuttil

A directive issued by the Medical Association of Malta (MAM) could disrupt some of the emergency medical arrangements made for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) to be held in Malta later this month.

The contingency plan for CHOGM envisages that a number of doctors will be deployed at strategic points around Malta, Tonio Bonello, the spokesman for St Luke's, Boffa and Mater Dei hospitals, explained, adding that the doctors should be providing medical services at off-site clinics which are being set up.

However, MAM general secretary Martin Balzan said the "work-to-rule" directive would make this impossible. Mr Bonello confirmed that the directive would make the deployment of doctors for CHOGM impossible.

"Despite appeals for MAM to lift the directives specifically for CHOGM, to date the association has refused," Mr Bonello said.

MAM has ordered doctors not to move from the department to which they are assigned.

Dr Balzan explained that doctors working at St Luke's emergency department could not cope with their workload, especially during the night. To make ends meet, the hospital authorities had been taking doctors from other departments and sending them to casualty.

"There are three problems with this scenario: these doctors are not sufficiently experienced, the amount of supervision at casualty is not adequate and the other departments also have staff shortage problems," he said.

However, Mr Bonello said that doctors who are temporarily deployed to the emergency department have undergone the necessary training to be able to carry out their duties under supervision from senior doctors at the same department and other senior doctors from other departments at St Luke's Hospital.

"The matter is also being discussed with the Medical Council and we await feedback from there as well," the spokesman said.

Dr Balzan said a number of doctors were prepared to work extra hours but added that the health authorities were not willing to pay for this, even though it would only cost about Lm8,000 over three months. Dr Balzan pointed out that a group of 40 doctors will complete their term as housemen in January, which could alleviate the shortage.

Mr Bonello said the hospital authorities were aware of the need for additional doctors at the emergency department at specific times and had "made plans - with which the MAM was initially in agreement - for extra doctors to be deployed" to the department.

He said the extra doctors would have been sourced both from personnel already at work in other departments within St Luke's Hospital as well as additional doctors.

However, he said, MAM had objected to temporarily seconding doctors to the department - for four hours a day - during their working hours.

He said MAM's suggestion that off-duty doctors be seconded to work at the emergency department was not acceptable to the hospital management.

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