Speech by Dr. Ray Busuttil - Malta Medical School Conference - 5/12/2006

Mister Chairman,
Hon Parliamentary Secretaries,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen

I must start by extending the greetings of the Hon. Minister of Health, Elderly and Community care who due to work commitments overseas could not be with us here this morning.

It is indeed a great privilege and honour to be here with you this morning delivering this opening address at this 6th Medical School Conference. Since its inception 18 years ago this conference has been regarded as the academic showpiece of our medical school and has become a fixed triennial event in the medical school academic calendar. May I take the opportunity to welcome our overseas guests who have kindly accepted to address this conference and share with us the latest advances in their respective speciality fields. May I also welcome the medical and non-medical contributors to this conference giving the conference its multi-disciplinary nature.

Malta has a long and distinguished history related to Medicine. The first documented reference to Malta’s involvement in healthcare dates back to the 14th century when a hospital under the name of Santo Spirto was opened in 1347. Following their arrival in Malta, the Knights opened the Sacra Infermeria in 1574 and from its very beginning it was considered to be one of the best hospitals in Europe. The services offered were further enhanced when a school of Anatomy and Surgery was opened in 1676. This makes our Medical School one of the oldest in the world. Along the years Malta’s reputation as an excellent centre for the provision of care was kept very much alive. The coming of the English in 1800 resulted in our University being run along English academic lines, a system which has been retained to date. The standards achieved by our medical school are evidenced by the fact that our medical graduates are to be found scattered all over the world occupying chairs and other important appointments in many prestigious institutions.

The Health Division has always striven to ensure the optimal provision of care to the Maltese population along Government’s policy. The patient continues to be our principal focus. The rapid advances that are taking place in the medical and related fields puts an onus on health professionals to update their knowledge accordingly, if the optimal care provided to date is to be sustained.

The Medical School Conference can be regarded as the acme of Continuing Professional Development initiatives in Malta. The Health Division recognises Continuing Professional Development as the means by which health care professionals improve and broaden their knowledge and skills and develop the personal qualities required in their professional lives. Continuing Professional Development can take a number of forms ranging from home based learning to research, work based development, attendance to conferences, seminars, workshops as well as courses leading to a qualification.

The new developments and trends in information and communication technology, advances in medical treatments and technologies and higher expectation of users also put an onus and a responsibility on the Health Division to facilitate such continuing professional development for its workers. This responsibility the Division has shouldered over the past years through its support of all the forms of CPD I have just referred to. This is manifested by the introduction of the merit award system for doctors, the payment of a CPD allowance, the organisation of in house training programmes, as well as the granting of paid study leave to allow professionals to attend for such educational activities. During the twelve months up to July 2006, the Health Division approved paid study leave for as many as 1,003 health care professionals or 28% of its professional workforce. This amounted to over 5,000 working days. Allowing for the payment of the mentioned working days and the payment of the various allowances during the same period, it is estimated that the Division spent close to Lm750,000 on Continuing Professional Development or close to 1% of its recurrent expenditure. We will of course strive to improve on this over the coming years.

The next step in Continuing Professional Development in Malta must be the establishment of local structured postgraduate training for our young doctors. Although complete training may not be possible in all speciality fields, we should strive to carry our as much of the necessary postgraduate training locally. I know that a lot of work has already been done by the various professional associations and I am pleased to say that such training will soon start in family medicine. I hope that over the coming months we shall be in a position to launch structured postgraduate training in other fields.

The Division strongly believes that CPD is a way of maintaining and improving standards of care, thereby improving the health of the population and within the limitations of its allocated resources, will therefore continue to consider investment in such activities as one of its foremost priorities.

Improving standards of care and promotion of patient safety are very much on the Health Division’s agenda for today. Today we shall be marking another milestone in patient care in Malta. Later this morning together with Sir Liam Donaldson who is here with us today and who chairs the World Alliance for Patient Safety I shall be signing the declaration that will join Malta to the World Alliance for Patient Safety. This is a WHO initiative, approved by the 57th World Health Assembly in May 2004 and launched in October of that same year with the objective to sustain political momentum and encourage the development of global and national patient safety policies and practice. Joining the Alliance underlines the resolve we have to take effective, visible and concerted action to reduce the growing number of adverse events in health care and their impact on patients’ lives. On the day of the launch, Sir Liam said and I quote “Over the years ahead, throughout the world, lives will be saved, risks to patients will be reduced and many lessons will be learned as a result of the action being launched in Washington DC today.” I have no doubt that Sir Liam will be proved right.

One of the key objectives for the current biennium set by the Alliance focuses on the challenge of health care associated infections. We are all aware that this is a condition which affects us in no small way and I am pleased to say that we will be actively tackling the issue over the coming year. I look forward to the participation and collaboration of all concerned in this effort to decrease hospital acquired infections.

In conclusion I have to mention the fact that this is the last Medical School Conference held under the aegis of St Luke’s Hospital. As you are all aware it is envisaged that in the latter half of next year we shall be moving our services to the new Mater Dei Hospital. I feel obliged to pay tribute to St Luke’ Hospital for the many years of service it has provided health care professionals and the Maltese public and I augur that our move to the Mater Dei will not only mean a change in our working environment but will also serve as a stimulus for us to raise our standards and offer an even better service to the Maltese people.

Finally, I would like to end my intervention by thanking all those who have in one way or another contributed to the organisation and running of this Conference which I am sure will be as successful and fulfilling as all the previous conferences. I wish you all a fruitful and professionally enriching three days.

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