Not enough nurses for COVID wards as cases rise

Medical professionals want better transparency, meaningful restrictions on COVID-19

Malta has witnessed an exponential rise in COVID-19 infections as public health restrictions were loosened in preparation for a return to pre-pandemic normality this summer.

The island is following suit as more countries opt for a relaxation of restrictions on travel, despite the rise of the BA.2 Omicron variant across the world – on Friday, health minister Chris Fearne announced that Malta will allow the unvaccinated to travel to Malta on presentation of COVID-19 recovery certificates and rapid tests, a move widely welcomed by the Maltese tourism industry.

Yet medical workers at Mater Dei Hospital have told MaltaToday they are experiencing pressure on all different fronts due to the rise in COVID hospitalisations.

Yesterday, three patients died while COVID-positive, with 563 new infections registered over 24 hours, with total active cases now standing at 8,821.

Nursing union boss Paul Pace (MUMN) said staffing had reduced dramatically to some two to three nurses stationed in each Mater Dei ward, when international standards required each ward to have one nurse to every four patients – at least six nurses for a Mater Dei ward.

“We are facing a lack of human resources. In specialised COVID-19 wards, standards require five nurses for every 20 patients, but we are lucky to have just three on a good day,” Pace said.

“Nurses are the worst-hit profession, as they are the only ones tasked with managing a ward. Other specialists like doctors and physios visit the patient and then leave,” Pace said, complaining that his union is often misrepresented of being at loggerheads with the health administration.

“The biggest issue we are facing are patients admitted to hospital without knowing they are positive to COVID-19. We are in a situation where people do not know they are sick, and are admitted to hospital without knowing they have the virus, and therefore can spread it. There are over 150 cases at Mater Dei Hospital. This means work has doubled and sometimes even trebled, in order to get them through the whole procedure,” Pace said.

Compounding the concerns of medical staff is the lack of transparency on COVID infections, as daily numbers of infections and hospitalisations are no longer being announced by the Public Health Superintendence on its Facebook page.

Doctors union boss Martin Balzan (Medical Association of Malta) says the solution in keeping COVID numbers also lies in better transparency and meaningful restrictions.

“Health authorities should resume publishing COVID-19 related statistics. Figures like hospitalisations, new cases and active cases should be made accessible to the public. There is nothing wrong with providing this information. It is a dangerous situation if people lose trust in the health authorities and think they are withholding information from the public,” he said.

Balzan also said social distancing and the use of masks must be retained. “This our normality now, and people will continue to get sick, and therefore we must not forget the vulnerable in society.”

Pace even said that government’s decision to allow home-testing kits to be used for COVID patients in quarantine, was a recipe for the continued spread of the virus.

“Self-testing does not work. People are inclined towards faking their result, knowing they will be forced to quarantine if they are positive. If you are taking a self-test before a holiday, what are you going to do? Risk your whole family’s holiday, or fake it?

Pace said Malta should follow Italy’s example where the use of a KN95 face-mask remains a requirement, together with a green pass for entry into mass events and enclosed spaces. “To have half-baked measures which have no effect on the spread of the virus, is like not having anything,” he said.