Active Ageing Ministry sues nurses’ union for ‘abusive directives’ at St Vincent de Paul

The Active Ageing Ministry is filing a lawsuit against the Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses for the bed-blocking directives issued last August

Updated at 4:54pm with SVPR management statement

The Active Ageing Ministry is taking legal action against the Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses (MUMN) for their withdrawn directives at St Vincent de Paul Residence.

The case was filed over directives issued by the MUMN last August which told members working at the residence and other homes to refuse new patients.

The ministry is asking that the court declare the directives abusive and illegal.

This resulted in nearly 200 empty beds at the state-run care home, which blocked the equivalent number of beds at Mater Dei Hospital and Karin Grech Rehabilitation Hospital.

In December, a court granted an injunction filed by the ministry on the directives. The ministry resorted to court action after talks fell through on the issue.

As soon as the decision was taken by the court, the government started filling the empty beds at St Vincent de Paul by transferring people from Mater Dei to St Vincent de Paul.  

The MUMN issued the bed-blocking directive after one of its members was suspended from his job over the disappearance of a resident from the home who was later found dead.

An independent inquiry found that the nurse, carers and security officers failed in their duty and that the nurse had misled the search. All of them were suspended, and a controversy ensued.

Union President Paul Pace said the suspended nurse was made a scapegoat for system failures that led to Karmenu Fino’s disappearance.

He also accused Active Ageing Minister Jo Etienne Abela of framing the nurse to shirk his own responsibility.

The nurse was never charged, interrogated, nor accused of any crime.

The ministry stated in its application, signed by lawyers Paul Cachia and Sharon Fenech, that the directives were threatening to paralyze Malta’s health system.  

The case was filed against the MUMN by Christine Schembri, the ministry’s permanent secretary, the St Vincent de Paul Residence chief executive and the CEO of the department for active ageing.

SVPR management insists this is not new legal action

Meanwhile, the administration of St Vincent de Paul said the union never withdrew the directive it had issued in August 2022. 

The management said the MUMN directive was rendered null and void by a court decision on 7 December. "It is normal legal practice to follow up such a decision by further court action. The Union is referring to this and this should not be construed as a new legal action," the management said.

SVPR management said that after the court's decision in December, the union issued a raft of 10 new directives, nine of which have a direct negative impact on patients.

"This union action has gone ahead despite the fact that the administration of St Vincent de Paule has very recently engaged 77 new nurses to add to its staff complement. Moreover, during a cordial meeting, the administration informed the union that it was considering various of its proposals," the statement read.