Medical brain drain starting at a younger age - 3/9/2006

link to Independent

Medical brain drain starting at a younger age
by Juan Ameen

Between 70 and 80 per cent of doctors who graduated in 1999 left Malta to study and work abroad. Over half the medical graduates start applying for jobs overseas as soon as they complete their housemanship, according to Medical Association of Malta president Stephen Fava.

MAM general secretary Martin Balzan said that 60 per cent of doctors leave to work abroad. “Out of these, only one in 11 comes back. Apart from the brain drain, there is no additional skills gain,” said Dr Balzan.

The medical brain drain is a dynamic trend that seems to be gathering momentum, added Dr Fava. “Unfortunately, doctors are now leaving at a younger age.”

The numerus clausus for the medical course was removed in 1998. Between 1999 and 2005, an average of 47 students graduated in medicine.

“Once the obligatory two years are up, the majority start looking for jobs abroad and it is very unlikely they won’t find one,” he added.

Some doctors are known to have left Malta without waiting for their warrant.

Salaries in the UK – which are at least four or five times those in Malta – is one of the reasons why doctors are opting to leave for the UK. The basic salary of a junior doctor in Malta ranges between Lm4,000 and Lm5,000 pa, which increases if the doctor works a 58-hour week. On the other hand, junior doctors in the UK earn about £45,000 (Lm28,000).

Dr Fava explained that the majority of doctors look for jobs in the UK. “However, they also find work in the US and in other European countries.”

There is an even greater demand for doctors in the UK since the government closed applications for doctors from non-EU member countries.”

Maltese doctors have an added asset as they have an excellent reputation abroad and there is no language problem, said Mr Fava.

“Even though Mater Dei Hospital will be a state-of-the-art hospital, it will not reach its full potential if there are not enough doctors.”

Last week, the Health Division and the MAM were negotiating a solution to open a new ward, which was due to open on Monday.

MAM said that patient safety could not be guaranteed due to the shortage of doctors and had directed doctors not to admit patients to the new ward.

Although the new ward is not being used, sources at the hospital say that nurses have been assigned and are “working there” without any duties to carry out and are receiving full wages.

It was pointed out that the new ward should be staffed by senior registrars and not junior doctors, especially since it is an admissions unit.

Dr Fava said that there is a lack of senior registrars in medicine wards and at least double the number is needed to reduce the shortage.

Patients admitted to the ward would be diagnosed and treated, after which they would either be discharged or admitted to another ward within three days.

MAM attributes the decrease in medical services to a steady loss of doctors, many of whom are leaving Malta in search of better work conditions.

Dr Fava said that the shortage of doctors in the emergency department last year had led to increased waiting times for patients, which in turn had created unnecessary tension and stress for all staff of the department.

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