MGRM concerned over replacement of specialised sexual health clinic with community services

MGRM says the genitourinary (GU) clinic is to be closed down and replaced by community clinics characterised by lack of training • Self-testing HIV kits temporally out of stock due Brexit 

HIV patients who attend the GU clinic at Mater Dei Hospital have been told that services will be given in the community
HIV patients who attend the GU clinic at Mater Dei Hospital have been told that services will be given in the community

The Malta Gay Rights Movement has raised concerns that Malta's genitourinary (GU) clinic is set to close and replaced with community clinics, where doctors will receive a one-day training session. 

Joe Grima, an MGRM official, said the closure of the specialised clinic could potentially be in the next two weeks, however, the NGO was not informed of the sudden change. 

"The only reason we know about this development is that patients asked to book their next appointment but were told by staff that they could no longer come to Mater Dei Hospital," Grima said. 

Grima said the patients were told by staff that appointments would take place at clinics by general practitioners.

"According to information we have managed to source, these GPs which already have their own duties, will now on top of that, be taking care of patients once serviced by the GU clinic, and only be given a one-day training session," Grima said.

He added that the MGRM was blind-sighted by this decision, as it, along with experts were not consulted. He added that this sudden decision would negatively impact patients' mental health, who had formed bonds with staff at the GU clinic and trusted them. 

"If the health authorities were to announce a pilot study with the view of expanding the service within a year or two, we would have been all for it. This would have given the professionals time to collect feedback and statistics, assess new diagnoses and how they are handled and so on. But suddenly dismantling Malta's only GU Clinic, which in any case received funding very recently for a refurbishment, is incomprehensible," Grima said. 

HIV testing kit shortage 

The MGRM also flagged that self-testing HIV kits are temporally out of stock due to delays caused by Brexit. 

Grima said the next consignment of kits are expected to arrive next week at the earliest, although that date cannot be confirmed due to uncertainties with the shipments.

"This is a private initiative by MGRM. We increased stocks once we heard that the GU clinic's capacity was going to be limited due to COVID-19 and we were selling them at cost price, and sometimes at a small loss, in order to try and drive HIV testing. People were turning to them because that was the only option," Grima said.

Grima said that the MGRM started using these kits to plug the gap caused by the pandemic. "We've had them since September 2019, but kits were not massively popular. In fact whilst we do encourage them, we're slightly wary of a positive diagnosis being received by someone who is unable to handle the news alone at home. The benefit of attending a GU Clinic (with trained and experienced personnel) was that there was a safety net, which leads us to why we're so concerned about this move," Grima said.