Study to determine extent of doctor haemorrhage - 30/8/2006

link to The Times

Study to determine extent of doctor haemorrhage
Cynthia Busuttil

The medical admissions ward at St Luke's Hospital remained closed for the second day yesterday as the Medical Association of Malta held on to its directives to doctors not to admit patients. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Just 10 per cent of doctors who go abroad to study or work return to take up employment in Malta, according to preliminary data compiled by the Medical Association of Malta.

MAM general secretary Martin Balzan told The Times Malta was losing about 60 per cent of doctors within five years of their graduation - mostly to the UK. "Doctors are leaving for good," he said.

The association is carrying out an in-depth study on the brain drain involving doctors who graduated from 1990 onwards. Over 160 have been interviewed to date. Dr Balzan said that although the data analysis was still at a preliminary stage, the indications were that the exodus of doctors had accelerated since EU accession two years ago.

The shortage of doctors is one of the reasons why MAM has issued directives that brought to a halt the opening of a new medical admissions ward at St Luke's Hospital. It said there were not enough doctors within the department of medicine to man the new ward and staff shortages could compromise patients' safety.

It also expressed its displeasure at not having been consulted prior to the ward's opening. In a press conference on Monday, the health authorities said any shortage of doctors would not have a bearing on whether the new ward should open because the number of admissions would remain the same.

If anything, the new ward would make their work easier.

The medical admissions ward would provide an area where patients can be diagnosed and treated after which they would either be discharged or admitted to another ward within three days.

Although MAM officials attended a routine meeting with the health authorities yesterday, the issue was not brought up, Dr Balzan said.

MAM said the new ward would not solve the problem of overcrowding in hospital, adding that the 80 beds taken up by social cases and the 20 occupied by patients waiting to be transferred to Zammit Clapp Hospital needed to be addressed.

Dr Balzan said that, at 4.5 days, the mean stay at St Luke's was one of the lowest in the world, indicating a high turnover. Reducing the stay of a number of patients would only have a minimal effect on overcrowding in the medical wards

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