'No risk' to children in hospital - 26/5/2006

link to The Times

'No risk' to children in hospital
Cynthia Busuttil

No children at St Luke's Hospital's paediatric department are at any risk because of a shortage of doctors, a Health Division spokesman insisted yesterday.

The Maltese Paediatric Association had voiced concern that the department is facing a "potential crisis" because of lack of doctors, which, it said, was putting babies and children at risk.

The Health Division spokesman explained that the paediatrics department was going through "a very delicate and sensitive transition". There had been a dramatic decrease in general paediatric hospital in-patient care, with the emphasis shifting to out-patient and day care.

While the number of newborns had decreased, the complexities of neonatal and paediatric cases requiring special care had risen.

The number of paediatric emergencies had remained stable, and the division believed refocusing was required in human resources.

New consultants have been appointed to deal with cancer cases and cardiac care for children. Another speciality consultant in endocrine and metabolic disease is being selected and a second consultant in paediatric surgery had started service this year.

"All these developments have brought about remarkable improvements in the specialised care of children," the spokesman said.

He added that the division was aware of the need to increase specialist paediatric care round the clock, adding that in order to do so it needed to ensure that enough registrars and senior house officers were available to cover all sensitive areas - particularly the Special Care Baby Unit.

He explained that the division was taking steps to rectify the situation with regard to the availability of senior registrars, registrars and senior house officers. The spokesman said there were 21 registrars and senior house officers out of a full complement of 25. Five of them were on reduced hours, bringing down the effective complement to 16. The division would be appointing three new senior house officers on July 10 and a fresh call for applications was also being prepared. Moreover, he said, the division had informed eight doctors benefiting from family-friendly policies that it was reviewing their applications. Thirty per cent of the available junior staff currently actually benefit from such concessions. The division is also taking steps to ensure that reduced hours were truly being utilised for family-friendly reasons and not for personal advantage.

"The Health Division must strike a balance and reconcile family-friendly policies - including reduced hours, parental leave, and responsibility leave - and study leave for skills development with safe hospital practice, ensuring, in the long term, that staffing levels are not blown out of proportion by temporary factors."

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