Updated | Chris Fearne says figures in leaked hospital report were 'misinterpreted'

Parliamentary Secretary Chris Fearne sets record straight about Hospital Activity Report for January- June 2015 • PN criticises Fearne for "choosing which journalists to speak to" rather than holding a press conference

Parliamentary secretary Chris Fearne
Parliamentary secretary Chris Fearne

Health parliamentary secretary Chris Fearne said that the hospital activity report recently leaked by the PN was not secret and that the opposition had misinterpreted some of the data within it.

“The report is a tool used by the management to gauge the current situation at the hospital,” he said, stressing that the report was a very standard part of hospital management procedures.

“The report wasn’t published because it is designed to be understood by managing staff. If it were designed for the general public, it would contain different language and perhaps even data to avoid alarming people or shedding a bad light on things,” Fearne said.

Referring to the issue of commercial sensitivity, Fearne added that given the current discussions with private hospitals and other entities, some figures could impinge on discussions.

“This report is not secret, however, that does not mean that every bit of data should be made public,” he added.

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, shadow health minister Claudette Buttigieg said that weekly admissions and discharges were at an average of 1,747 and 1,687, leaving some 50 accumulative patients on average, every week.

“The report shows that the biggest distinction between admissions and discharges happens on Sundays, when there are fewer professionals on call,” Fearne said, pointing out that the government was currently working on ways to tackle this issue.

Talking about the average of 50 accumulative cases a week, Fearne added that there are three possible outcomes for admissions at hospitals;

 “Most patients are discharged after they receive the necessary care, others are transferred to other facilities and some others may have fatal cases,” he said pointing out that the figure presented did not take any of these possibilities into account and ignoring these factors resulted in a bad interpretation of the data presented.

Buttigieg also insisted that the real reason behind the increase in patients at the hospital, was not due to elective surgeries as the government had claimed. She pointed out that the percentage of patients undergoing elective surgery stood at a mere 16%. However, Fearne said that in this case most of the data had been omitted altogether.

“When hospitals talk about operations, they are referring to elective (booked through an appointment), emergency as well as day case surgeries, where a patient is discharged after a day. This means that when we say elective surgeries, we could also be referring to day case surgery,” Fearne said, pointing out that Day case surgeries stood at 32%.

Referring to the figures of patients waiting for a transfer from Mater Dei to rehabilitation, geriatric or long term care, Fearne categorically denied the figures Buttigieg had quoted.

“Buttigieg claimed that 451 patients were on waiting lists, but in reality, the report shows that there were 13 patients waiting for rehabilitation, while 68 others are in waiting lists to enter elderly care homes,” he said.

Fearne also stressed that the Accident and Emergency Department had seen a 7% increase in patients because the waiting time and by extension the efficiency of the department had significantly improved.

“Last year, only 35% of cases in this department were seen to in under four hours, but the percentage has now risen to 92%,” Fearne added.

Responding to criticism that this Summer had been the first in the hospital’s history where patients were being treated in corridors at this time of Summer, Fearne once again denied Buttigieg’s claims and insisted that between the June and September 2011, the hospital had some 2,577 patients in corridors, and that the number had actually decreased over the years to some 1,458 in 2014.

“We are doing out best to completely overturn this less than desirable situation,” he said, pointing out the government’s plans to continue distributing patients in various facilities.”

He added that the corridors were actually ward extensions and that they were fully equipped to deal with patients.

Responding to claims that patients from different categories were being kept together, at the risk of exposing patients to other issues like infectious diseases, Fearne insisted that only the patients who would usually be kept in a general ward, were kept in the same area.

“The patients in the corridors are at any particular risk by virtue of where they are, they would still be with patients who have other conditions if they were in a general ward,” he said.

In a video reaction to the conference, acting CEO Joseph Zarb Adami, said that the report presented by Buttigieg had incorrect data that was not respectful of the hard work being carried out by the hospital staff, aside from giving the hospital a bad name.

“The hospital sees an average of 300 outpatients every day, as well as some 60,000 operations every year,” Zarb Adami said.

“Panic in the hospital hallways spills over to ministry”- PN

In a statement in response to Fearne’s reaction, the Nationalist party said that the situation in the hallways had overflown into the ministry itself, given Fearne’s decision to communicate his reaction to the PN press coference to individual journalists of his choosing.

“It was the Acting CEO of Mater Dei himself who had confirmed with media that the facility is in its worst ever summer crisis,” the statement reads, pointing out that even unions had confirmed this fact.

PN added that Fearne had also kept the report hidden, and they reiterated that he had also failed in the elderly sector since 451 elderly patients had been kept waiting in the last six months.

“The failure in the management of the hospital is also being confirmed by the fact that over half of Outpatients with an appointment are not showing up,” it adds.

The statement added that Fearne should listen to the patients and understand their troubles rather than attack the opposition.

“Patients and their relatives are suffering because of the failure of the management,” it added.

PN also criticized Fearne for choosing certain journalists and excluding others rather than addressing a press conference and issuing a statement to explain his views openly.

 “This is confirmation both of the lack of the so-called roadmap in the health sector and of the non-existence of the promise of having a country open to all; Malta Taghna Lkoll.”