SPEECH BY THE HON. JOE CASSAR, PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY FOR HEALTH IN THE MINISTRY FOR SOCIAL POLICY, DURING SEMINAR : WHY MALTESE DOCTORS DO NOT NEED TO GO TO THE UK FOR FOUNDATION PROGRAMME TRAINING, AT THE CENTRAL AUDITORIUM, MATER DEI HOSPITAL, FRIDAY 26TH SEPTEMBER 2008.
Good Afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen, Colleagues,
It is the Maltese Government’s priority to keep our doctors here and so we definitely need to set a foundation course in Malta.
We are here today to explore the possibility that Maltese Doctors will not need to go to the UK for their Foundation training. We are hoping that this foundation training can be done in Malta.
This is one of the Governments’ promises to the Maltese society and we are determined to find a reasonable solution.
We are trying to have the Foundation Programme training done in Malta equivalent to that of the UK. This is for the benefit of medical students, our medical graduates and obviously for the benefit of the Maltese patients.
A local accredited foundation programme for our houseman is a crucial need for our healthcare service. The UK NHS Foundation Course for newly qualified doctors had implications on our service. Whilst not wishing in any way to hinder local graduates from exercising their right to free movement within the EU, our concern is that the Maltese public is not getting a service return following a considerable investment in medical education. I must register and recognize here that NHS UK were very responsive to our concern.
During the past few months the Government together with NHS UK worked on tangible ways of addressing the problem in a holistic and mutually fruitful manner.
We are exploring the possibility of classifying the Malta house physician rotation as equivalent to a UK Foundation Programme. Obviously the real challenges are to find resources and to have the culture change needed. This culture change is required at trainer and trainee level – from consultants to house physicians – involving the entire group – specialist registrars, HSTs, BSTs.
Our policy line is that Malta further strengthens its capabilities to continue to offer excellence in Medical Services. It has done so in the past with the assistance of the UK from where the vast majority of our specialists (over 90%) have received their specialized training. Malta still needs collaboration with UK and other countries because the size of the island does not allow full exposure at post-graduate level and infact experience in foreign centres of excellence has been embedded in approved post-graduate training programmes. Language, culture and philosophy of undergraduate training were common threads in both countries. We also see this initiative as a way of benchmarking our training programmes and hence our services.
The UK NHS introduced this 2-year Foundation Programme in 2005 to bridge gap between graduation and initiation of post-graduate training and to give new graduates the core clinical competences and skills.
The foundation years are the realistic course required to choose the future career. This is because graduates will have the chances to learn about a wide spectrum of specialities and then be realistic in their choice of speciality.
The introduction of the Foundation Training Programmes, was to structure career pathways for UK graduates by addressing some of the issues which arose from an evaluation of the senior house officer grade, including inadequate supervision, assessment, appraisal and career advice with no defined end-point to training.
This had an undesired side-effect, which Malta has highlighted, calls for seeking alternative ways of working with countries such as Malta, for whom losing 30% of its new graduates has serious implications on service delivery and organization of future care.
But there are common grounds for the two programmes offered. The philosophy of the Maltese houseman years is very close to that of the Foundation Programme in the UK.
As a result of this initiative the Maltese house physician programme would be equivalent to the UK Programme and thus make Maltese graduates eligible to apply for UK post-graduate posts on an equal basis to UK Graduates following the UK foundation programme.
UK NHS is also offering direct help in finding 1-2 year placements for Higher Trainees from Malta which would help Maltese trainees with the external exposure part of their training UK NHS could also consider sending UK graduates to do the Foundation Programme in Malta, once the Maltese programme is validated.
In conclusion, several avenues for future collaboration were identified and they are being explored at the technical level. It was crucial to achieve some tangible deliverables that can be presented to Maltese medical students and junior doctors. Today’s seminar is the obvious landmark, to put in Professor Sowden’s words earlier “today is the start of the beginning”.
During these last weeks two Maltese consultant staff who can act as coordinators of the local house physician programme were identified. They are looking at the methodology of supervision, assessment, and appraisal of the UK Foundation Programme which could be easily adapted to the Maltese house physician programme and used as a formal benchmark for Maltese graduates assessment.
With the help of UK NHS we have counter parts to achieve this and they are with us here today and they will address you in a few minutes.
We look forward to the UK NHS examining the Maltese Programme and eventually certify its equivalence to the UK Training Programme.
In conclusion, I would like to show my gratitude to all those who are working on these programmes and to UK NHS for understanding our need so that the healthcare service in Malta will continue to improve.
This is a good start to a new beginning in medical experience in Malta and I will assure you that the Maltese doctors will do their utmost to get the best out of this and to make a name for themselves and for improving our healthcare service.