Proposed changes at Health Centres - 14/8/2006

MAM seeks better care at health clinics
Cynthia Busuttil

The Medical Association of Malta has proposed that patients attending government health centres should be prioritised according to their needs as one of the measures needed to improve the situation at the clinics.

Association general secretary Martin Balzan told The Times that MAM has also proposed a system of continuity of care whereby non-urgent cases will be followed by the same doctor. A third proposal is to improve the record-keeping system. He stopped short of more details since negotiations with the health authorities over the clinics are ongoing.

The association is concerned that the shortage of doctors at the health centres is leading to a decline in the quality of care. It is currently in discussions with the health authorities about the needed changes but Dr Balzan said it was still not satisfied with what the government was offering.

In fact, MAM is giving the government until the end of the month to make new counterproposals after which it would order industrial action after consultation with its members.

Dr Balzan said a holistic change in the way health centres operated was necessary. The final aim should be to improve the quality of care and bring it in line with international guidelines.

"If implemented, our proposals should lead to better service," he said.

He pointed out that doctors were seeing as many as 60 patients a day, adding that there was a mismatch between the workload and the number of doctors. "They are dealing with quantity at the expense of quality."

The shortage, he said, was one of the repercussions of the brain drain that was affecting the whole health service.

Another cause was that general practice was not a popular speciality and the situation was exacerbated because many doctors went into private practice. Although the recent introduction of a training scheme for general practitioners was a positive step, it would take three years to complete the course, he added.

When contacted, Primary Health Care director Andrew Amato Gauci said MAM's proposals included "some interesting things".

He said the health authorities had held a number of meetings with MAM representatives and the two parties were currently "negotiating the implementation of the association's proposals".

Questioned about MAM's claims over the shortage of doctors, Dr Amato Gauci said the number of doctors at health centres was at the highest level in the past four years. Although there was still a shortage, it was not a critical situation

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