[WATCH] Fearne: ‘Mater Dei alone cannot provide country with quality healthcare levels required’

The medical sector requires collaboration with the private sector, as well as focus on research, health minister Chris Fearne says

Health minister Chris Fearne said the country needed to focus on medical research
Health minister Chris Fearne said the country needed to focus on medical research
Malta Business Weekly 20160112•video by James Bianchi

The government’s vision to make Malta a medical centre of excellence requires there to be collaboration with the private sector, health minister Chris Fearne said.

Fearne said that Malta had a great hospital and among the most talented doctors, but to take things to the next level, it was necessary to attract more investment to the sector.

Fearne was speaking at a business breakfast organised by The Malta Business Weekly.

He added that it was also necessary for the country to focus on research, emphasising that talented medical professionals needed to have facilities where they can carry out cutting edge research.

“We must focus on talent, and to get talent, to get the best people, we must have the facilities to do good research,” Fearne said.

The minister said that the facilities at Mater Dei, as well as those being developed around the island would make this possible, adding that roughly 75% of PhD graduated from the University of Malta last year came from the medical school. This would further contribute towards increasing the level of medical research, he said.

However, Fearne said that while it is positive, the project is ambitious and that the government was speaking to several big names in the medical industry, there is still more to be done.

“We must keep our feet on the ground. There are still a few chronic problems that have been with us for a long time and which we haven’t solved completely,” Fearne said.

New health centres to ease the load on Mater Dei

While progress has been made on issues of out-of-stock medicines, the number of available beds at the Mater Dei and waiting lists in general, there are some problems that have not yet been completely eradicated, the minister said.

Fearne said that there was still a big problem with outpatients, an area where he said the demand is still much greater than the supply. He said that the opening of new healthcare centres around the island is intended to reduce the load on Mater Dei, adding that the focus over the coming years would be for there to be a shift towards better preventative practices.

Dentistry was another area that required work, he said.

“Some years ago, a decision was taken to concentrate all dentistry services at Mater Dei and this was a mistake,” he said.

Asked about whether privatisation would help the citizens as much as it did the sector in general, Fearne said that a more efficient hospital would ultimately benefit all of society. He said that by creating a centre of excellence, the country would be able to attract foreign patients who would contribute financially to Malta maintaining a high level of healthcare, which is also free.

“If we want people to come to Malta from abroad, then we need to attract talent, we need to attract capital. Services for Maltese people will remain free but we need the investment. The new hospitals we be better than Mater Dei,” Fearne said.

Using Gozo as an example, Fearne said that as things stand, care given in Gozo is of an inferior quality. He said that this is due to a lack of resources, infrastructure, as well as other factors.

“The people are excellent but the place is the same as it was in the 70s. These are the things we will be improving. We will have a physiotherapy centre in Gozo that is world class,” Fearne said.

Hospital medication is effective, but some may cause unexpected side-effects

Speaking during a panel discussion, Medical Association of Malta (MAM) President Gordon Caruana Dingli said that the association was worried that the changes being made in hospitals that will be privatised were drastic, adding that there needs to be more involvement of the people who currently work at these hospitals.

Karin Grech CEO Stephen Zammit said Malta needs a proper rehabilitation centre and he was grateful that this was now a possibility. “Matters of health should be based on what is necessary for the population.

MAM General Secretary Martin Balzan, speaking as a patient, said that there must be mechanisms in place to ensure that the medicines being bought are in fact effective. Speaking from his own personal experience, he said that he had been provided with medication that did not work, and that there did not seem to be the appropriate mechanisms in place to deal with these cases.

Central Procurement and Supplies Unit CEO Karl Farrugia said that the problem was one being experience by other people, not only Balzan. He said that discussions were ongoing with the industry to have more than one fallback option in cases where one medicine was not working well, or showed an adverse reaction.

“We had a similar problem with the eye-drops we were using. Some people were having a reaction to the drops and we have studied the problem, consulted with other hospitals and we have managed to solve the problem,” Farrugia said.

In his closing remarks, the Fearne said that all medicines were authorised by European Medicines Agency or Medicines Authority. He said that all are real medicines and they all work, adding that if anyone has information of any medicine that isn’t authorised then this should be reported.

“Some medicines might have some side-effects that are not expected. We have had cases where we saw unexpected side-effects and we reported to other countries so they would also know. But let us not alarm people by saying that we are using medicines that do not work.”

On generic drugs, Fearne said that they are an important part of the healthcare system. He said that in most cases the use of generics is encouraged since it means that hospitals are making better use of their resources, since generics are cheaper. The minister acknowledged that it is true, however, that in some cases side-effects might be different and said that a new system will be soon be launched that will allow patients to shift from one brand of drug to another in cases where side-effects were reported. 

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