Letter on Medical Brain Drain - 19/6/2006

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Medical brain drain
Dr Martin Balzan, MD, MRCP (UK) FEFIM, general secretary, Medical Association of Malta, Gzira.

I refer to the letter by Professor J. Muscat (The Sunday Times, May 11). He calls the brain drain "imaginary". Professor Muscat retired from active service two decades ago and not surprisingly appears to be out of touch with the current realities of the public health sector. His perceptions of the present situation also appear to remain fossilised in the 1977-1987 dispute while the rest of the profession has moved on to new realities.

Up to 80 per cent of newly graduating doctors are leaving the country within two to three years of graduating. This is resulting is great difficulties in manning the emergency services. The accident and emergency and the paediatric department are clear examples of the worsening crisis facing the health service. In addition, numerous health centres have been closed and there is a high probability that this service may need to be limited further in the near future due to the serious lack of medical staff.

Furthermore, very few of the doctors leaving the country are returning, with the result that waiting lists at all levels are becoming increasingly and unacceptably prolonged. Maybe the thousands of patients who have to wait several months for an out-patients appointment or years for a hip replacement are all imaginary!

Indeed the many emergency services such as those of pathology, radiology, anaesthesia, intensive care, and orthopaedics remain nearly completely dependent on doctors recruited from Eastern Europe. But even here many of these very competent doctors are looking at greener pastures within the EU. For some time the surgical services in Gozo were on the verge of being closed down, as the Health Division had great difficulty to recruit a new general surgeon to replace one who had retired.

Inevitably the medical profession has continued the process of rapid evolution where social dialogue with Government and Opposition has become an essential component of modern and democratic government...

Membership of MAM has nearly doubled since 1998 to over 700 members, with 85 per cent representation despite the continued losses of medical manpower. The present internal democracy of MAM helps bring forward issues truly meaningful to its members irrespective of who is in government or who is in opposition.

Professor Muscat is invited to participate in MAM's internal discussions with its members. Perhaps this might help him develop a more informed opinion on current issues.

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