Campusino on Mater Dei - 1/2/2006

Mater Dei - a teaching hospital
Ibn Campusino

It was good to read the report by Cynthia Busuttil (The Times, January 21) stating that the Prime Minister announced that the work on the Mater Dei Hospital is proceeding as planned. Even sweeter music to the ear of academics was Dr Lawrence Gonzi saying that every opportunity was to be taken to use the hospital as a teaching ground.

The report states: "In fact, through the use of cameras, a surgical intervention can be viewed, and the surgeon's comments heard, by the students in another part of the hospital." Dr Gonzi said that Malta had a very good health care service and the main aim was to improve it.

He expressed his conviction that the medical staff were already giving the best service, and they deserved to have a better environment to work in. He said Malta had the capability to become the best in the world in this sector.

We are convinced that this a sincere wish and that the use of the hospital as a teaching ground would also provide the best teaching environment not only for doctors but for all other health care professionals. One is baffled then to hear complaints from academic staff that they are not at all clear about the teaching arrangements that are being planned to meet the needs of students and lecturers.

Teaching at tertiary level goes hand in hand with research. One important pillar of research in the medical field is the carrying out of clinical trials. What facilities are available infrastructurally to attract clinical trials to Malta?

There are complaints from highly recognised clinical trial and research agencies, who are responsible to provide the funds and make the mundane arrangements for such research to take place, about the insurmountable difficulties that one finds to include Malta in multicentre studies. These deficiencies are not coming from clinicians but emerge from the civil service side of the government.

Such an attitude does not augur well for developments in the new Mater Dei Hospital. It appears that the construction side did make a lot of progress but it was not followed by a change in attitude of the human resources, especially at the management level. The building in itself will not produce a state-of-the-art service.

Lack of consultation with and participation of the academic staff should be avoided. It is said, for example, that a number of overhead projectors were acquired for teaching purposes at the Mater Dei Hospital, while not enough equipment is available to cater for modern ways of teaching. Would projectors linked to computers not have been a better choice in this day and age?

Who is responsible for this lack of planning and consultation? Do we really mean that the Mater Dei Hospital will be using 81 pneumatic tube stations to deliver medicines and blood samples? Has any one studied the effect of transporting by pneumatic means on the medicines and blood samples? How much did the installation of this system cost and what cost effectiveness studies were carried out?

Who was consulted on the wisdom of installing such a system in our hospital? Were the personnel trained in the use of such a system and were the consequences and frequency of errors estimated? Our appeal is that it is never too late to consult.

There are more immediate needs to ensure the proper distribution of medicines and blood samples, which could be tackled at a fraction of the cost of pneumatic tube systems. The money could have been allocated to develop the infrastructure required for the teaching aspects of the hospital.

One should be grateful, patients and all workers, to the Nationalist government for having the foresight of building a state-of-the-art hospital. The building in itself is essential. The medical school and the Institute of Health Care are also indispensable parts of the whole system.

We are afraid that not enough attention is being given to this area, especially to the needs of the students and their teachers both in the planning of the requirements for the bedside teaching for all health care professionals and in providing the needs for formal settings, such as lecture theatres and tutorial rooms.

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