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Not enough doctors in the house - 27/9/2006

link to The Times Editorial

Editorial

Not enough doctors in the house

The Medical Association of Malta insists there are not enough doctors within the department of medicine to man the new medical admissions ward at St Luke's Hospital. This has focused public opinion on the chronic shortage of doctors in the government-run health service even if the situation highlighted by the doctors' union should really come as no surprise.

The MAM also points out that an ever-increasing number of young doctors leave Malta.

Some are attracted by better conditions and openings but many more are lured by the many opportunities to do post-graduate studies and specialisation overseas. For Malta, the opportunity to study abroad should be more a case of brain enrichment than brain drain because this minuscule island has the privilege of having quite a number of medical professionals who serve with distinction overseas and a good many of them continue offering their services to Maltese patients later on in their life.

This should be considered as an opportunity not a liability as they create a valuable source from which the government can recruit specialists and experienced GPs for key posts here. Also, their presence in prestigious medical centres is a great asset for Malta.

The government has often benefited from this by liaising with these outstanding professionals who have then, in turn, served their country by visiting at regular intervals to advise and treat where necessary.

Malta does not lack human resources in the medical sector. There is a healthy surplus of doctors, especially after the removal of the numerus clausus. The lack of sufficient medical staff in government-run health services is mainly a question of management and finances.

Young graduates complain of the way in which they are treated. After years of exceedingly competitive training, they are obliged to work long hours for "a pittance". Their requirement to have a minimum of two years of hospital training should not be exploited to their detriment. One cannot expect too much from a disgruntled, demoralised and underpaid workforce.

Not only is the hospital service facing a doctor shortage but the primary health service is also being bled white and this probably due to the prevailing economic situation; the huge investment in Mater Dei Hospital must be kept constantly in mind, without going into the matter of whether this hospital was a must or whether the funds should have been utilised to improve what already exists.

The fact remains that potential GPs are being lost and there is no doubt that the GP service is vital. It nips medical problems in the bud and is responsible for health education and disease prevention. If this sector is neglected, the health of the population suffers and the rest of the health service becomes even more unsustainable.

GPs, who do serve in health centre, are the backbone of any health service as they are closely and continuously in touch with the people. Should one be surprised that they avoid employment with the government or, if unable to set up in private practice, go overseas?

The government has to take stock of the situation. There is too much at stake. A sustainable decent health service is a cornerstone of a civil and humane society.

The MAM ought to publish an exhaustive report on what needs to be done to have a viable health service and address abuses of its own, even in the private sector. The doctors' union must have the courage to face this reality as well. Seeking narrow self interests will not win public sympathy. Malta can ill afford this.



 
 
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