Opening of new St Luke's ward may be delayed - 26/8/2006

link to The Sunday Times

Opening of new St Luke's ward may be delayed
Ariadne Massa

Plants to open a new ward at St Luke's Hospital tomorrow could be delayed if the Malta Medical Association (MAM) forges ahead with a threat to issue directives prohibiting doctors from admitting patients.

The new Medical Admissions Ward, made up of 14 beds, is an initiative to provide an area where patients can be diagnosed, treated and either discharged or admitted to another ward within a maximum of 72 hours.

Hospital superintendent Frank Bartolo told The Sunday Times that the idea behind this ward was to eliminate overcrowding and waiting time at the hospital.

However, MAM is planning to issue directives tomorrow telling doctors not to admit anybody to this new ward because, among other issues, it had never been consulted.

MAM general secretary Martin Balzan said that at no point had it been approached for official discussions on the new ward. It is also saying that that it would require additional staff who just do not exist.

"We have been speaking about a brain drain for a number of months. There are definitely no staff for an increased workload," he insisted.

Dr Balzan said that the hospital was already overstretched because of overcrowding and yet it was now planning to speed up patients' treatment by setting up a new ward.

To drive the point home, Dr Balzan referred to a letter that registrars had received from the Medical Department director this week restricting vacation leave because of a shortage of staff and he added that there were not enough staff to guarantee patient safety.

However, Dr Bartolo said that the hospital had adequate manpower for the new ward and the patients admitted would be looked after by the consultant on duty and his team.

"There is absolutely no risk to patient safety. Apart from this, patients who require treatment will still have to be admitted to the hospital irrespective of whether we have adequate manpower or not. If they don't enter the new ward they will be treated in another," he said.

"Never once in my experience have we turned a patient away - we don't ration the admission of patients. The new ward is intended to make the process easier," he said.

Dr Bartolo added that the hospital had no obligation to inform MAM, but it had a duty to let its staff know of these changes and an official circular was issued on Tuesday.

Apart from that the department director had also circulated a copy of the new ward's protocol some weeks ago inviting feedback.

"Everything is ready to go," he said, "we have the staff."

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