MAM raises alarm over doctor shortage - The Times - 21/1/2007

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MAM raises alarm over doctor shortage
The Malta Medical Association (MAM) has warned that doctors are finding it increasingly difficult to cope with a growing demand for their services and has appealed to the authorities to be more sensitive to the needs of patients.

There were long queues for practically all the medical services, particularly at the Accident and Emergency Department at St Luke's Hospital and in health centres, where patients often had to wait for hours.

According to the association, Health Minister Louis Deguara recently said there was a need to improve the career progression for doctors because there had been a significant brain drain to the UK.

Waiting lists for outpatient appointments and for any surgical procedure had become unacceptably long. For example, for a hip replacement, the waiting time was five years.

"The public will judge whether this is an adequate service as claimed by the minister. These long waiting times and lists are a consequence of the shortage of doctors and inadequate planning over the years," the association said.

Furthermore many doctors are working 60 to 70 hours a week, while the authorities insist that health centre doctors should see one patient every four minutes.

"The demand for services is on the rise while the number of experienced and specialised doctors is decreasing. A newly graduated doctor cannot do the work of a doctor with years of experience," MAM insisted.

The MAM said it agreed with Dr Deguara's statement that the UK loses up to a fifth of its doctors to the US, but it added that Malta was losing more than half of its doctors.

It strongly advised the health authorities to study the policies being implemented in the UK to retain and motivate doctors in the National Health Service.

Working conditions and salaries in the UK had improved even though they were already far superior to those here.

"Only in Malta does the government seem content to ignore the problem and let the health system collapse," the association said.

The MAM added that it was prepared to continue to contribute constructively to improve the health care system.

But if the health authorities continued to bury their heads in the sand, and take a "business as usual" attitude, it would have no option but to take the necessary action in the interest of its members and the public.

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