Malta ranks mid-way in EU health care survey - 29/6/2006

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Malta ranks mid-way in EU health care survey
Ivan Camilleri in Brussels

Malta's public health system ranks very high for generosity but very low for consumer rights and for the risk of MRSA, a type of bacterial infection, according to the results of an EU-wide survey.

The island was ranked 13th overall in the European Health Consumer Index for this year, published yesterday in Brussels.

The index, drawn up by Health Consumer Powerhouse, a European provider of consumer information on health care, compares all of the EU's 25 national health care systems plus Switzerland from a consumer point of view.

The ranking is based on a group of 28 indicators divided into five categories: patients' rights and access to information; waiting times for treatment; outcomes of care; the generosity of the health care system and pharmaceuticals.

Malta was given top marks for the generosity offered by its public health care system and a "very good service" mark in categories such as to the service of a family doctor on a same-day basis, direct access to specialist care, treatment of cancer, the number of cataract operations and dental care as part of the public service offering.

It performs badly, however, when it comes to the rights of consumers for access to information and access to new medicines.

According to the survey, it still has a lot to do when it comes to the provision of patient information. It is given "very bad" marks on patients' rights law, patients' organisations involved in decision making, no-fault malpractice insurance and access to own medical records.

Perhaps the most worrying aspect of the index for Malta is the fact that its health care system is given the lowest possible mark when it comes to controlling the risk of MRSA.

MRSA stands for methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a type of bacterium which has become resistant to most common antibiotics. MRSA infections, which could kill someone already weakened by illness, usually occur in hospital patients but are rare among the general public. In the UK and other countries this "superbug" has become widespread in hospitals.

A spokesman for Health Consumer Powerhouse said that on the whole one cannot say that the Maltese public health care system is bad. He added however that there is much room for improvement.

The survey makes a series of recommendations to be implemented by the authorities in order to substantially improve the health care system. Malta needs to enact a law on patients' rights as soon as possible and to take the necessary action in hospitals to eliminate the risk of MRSA infections, which is described as a very serious issue.

The survey shows that overall, France has the most consumer-friendly health care system in the EU followed closely by the Netherlands, Germany and Sweden. The worst performing countries are Latvia, Ireland and Lithuania.

The survey shows that three quarters of the national health systems in the EU make many patients wait for longer than three weeks for cancer treatment.

Only one third of the member states would allow direct access to a specialist as well as the opportunity to get a second opinion. Medical records are inaccessible for the patient in half of the member states.

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