link to The Times
Sunday, 2nd December 2007
Concern over lack of hospital beds
Consultants at Mater Dei Hospital have expressed concern over the number of beds available in surgical wards.
Each consultant requires an average of 20 beds in a specific area to deal with their patient load, but there are currently just 12, Medical Association of Malta general secretary Martin Balzan told The Sunday Times.
The situation is likely to become more acute when the hospital becomes busier due to an increase in viral infections - normally in the winter months - since several more beds will be needed, with consultants needing some 40 beds each to function effectively.
After just three weeks, patients have already been relocated to surgical wards after medical wards filled to capacity. A spokesman for the hospital said that no elective surgery procedure had yet been postponed. However, doctors and nurses believe this is only a matter of time.
"This will have an effect on waiting lists for elective surgery," Paul Pace, the president of the Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses, said.
This comes at a time when health authorities are trying to cut down on waiting lists, even through the new agreement with doctors which opens up opportunities for afternoon sessions. "We are going to have surgeons and theatres available, but no post-op beds where patients can recover," Dr Balzan said.
Mr Pace said this problem had been expected because it had been occurring at St Luke's Hospital for many years.
"At St Luke's moving medical patients to surgical wards had always been resisted unless there was no other option, and instead they used to be put in beds in corridors. But now that the medical wards in Mater Dei are full, there is no other solution," he said.
While applauding the decision to keep social cases and those needing long-term rehabilitation at St Luke's Hospital, Dr Balzan said this might not be enough. He questioned what would happen once the old hospital was full.
He said possible options included utilising private hospitals for tourists needing medical treatment, opening an institution for patients requiring palliative care, or opening another wing for acute medical cases at Mater Dei.
"It's either that, or the hospital authorities will only be left with the option to take over more beds from another department and turn them into medical beds."
The hospital spokesman said elective surgery cases were not dependent on medical beds. He said that Mater Dei was following a strict discharge policy with patients being released without unnecessary delay as soon as they were fit, since the hospital was strictly catering for acute care. He added that there were also some medical beds in the admissions and observation wards.
"Naturally, consultants are doing their best to discharge according to the policy but some fine tuning is required to optimise efficiency at Mater Dei. This is an effort which needs to be undertaken between management and consultants," the spokesman said.