A feasible plan for the health sector is required

After eight years of pinning its hopes on a fraudulent deal to deliver change in Malta’s healthcare system, the government is now facing mounting problems part of which are the result of postponed decisions

After eight long years, the Gozo General, St Luke’s and Karin Grech hospitals are back in government hands.

The repossession of these three facilities was not the result of government’s proactive approach to terminate a contract that remained unfulfilled by Steward Healthcare. Rather, the repossession was the result of the court’s ruling to rescind the privatisation contract following a case initiated by Nationalist MP Adrian Delia.

In many aspects, we’re back to square one. The hospitals have not seen the promised level of investment and the time wasted with this rotten privatisation deal has an opportunity cost, which is now being felt in our health sector.

Gozo was promised a new state of the art general hospital. It never arrived, leaving the country in the same state as before. Now, the new health minister, Jo Etienne Abela says the country needs another hospital to complement Mater Dei.

It makes strategic sense to have a well-equipped general hospital in Gozo to cater for the needs of the sister island and the localities of Mellieha and St Paul’s Bay. Having a well-equipped general hospital on Gozo makes sense even in the eventuality of a natural disaster that diminishes the capacity of Mater Dei Hospital.

But it is not just the lack of a new Gozo hospital that is of concern. The country is crying out loud for a new mental health facility to replace the aged and decrepit Mount Carmel Hospital.

In October 2013, then health minister Godfrey Farrugia had announced that a new mental health hospital would be built across the Birkirkara bypass and it had to be ready in three or four years. Roll forward to 2024 and this promised hospital is nowhere to be seen and now the former prime minister, Joseph Muscat, says one of his biggest regrets was that of not giving enough attention to mental health care.

A mother and baby hospital was also promised to provide specialised care. Once again, this proposal never materialised and we now have Labour MP Katya De Giovanni correctly raising the point that it is cruel to leave a woman who has miscarried in the same ward as expectant mothers.

The country was also promised a new outpatient block at Mater Dei for which a planning permit has already been obtained. The transfer of outpatient facilities to this new building, when it is built, would free up more space for clinical use within the hospital. To date, works on this building have barely started, leaving big question marks as to when it will ever be built.

On a more personal level, hospital treatment waiting lists appear to have returned with a vengeance after the COVID interlude with patients being left to wait months if not years to have a CT scan or MRI, or be operated on.

A lack of beds at Mater Dei has resulted in people being treated in areas of the hospital that are unsuitable and lack the dignity one would expect.

After eight years of pinning its hopes on a fraudulent deal to deliver change in Malta’s healthcare system, the government is now facing mounting problems part of which are the result of postponed decisions.

Opposition health spokesperson Adrian Delia is correct when he argues that the repercussions of the failed Vitals-Steward privatisation are now being borne by patients.

The health sector requires a new plan that lays down the priorities for the next 10 years and how these will be addressed. As a country, we’ve invested €700 million over seven years on improvements to the road network. We are now supposed to be investing another €700 million over seven years in open green spaces within urban environments.

The health sector requires a massive investment on the same lines. This leader hopes that the new health minister sits down with his experts and the stakeholders to outline a development plan that is feasible and responds to the present and future challenges.