Updated | Doctors' Tuesday strike to go ahead

A meeting between the Medical Association of Malta and Health Minister Chris Fearne has failed to solve the impasse over the hospitals privatisation deal and the imminent takeover by Steward Healthcare

Updated 2.30pm with MAM and Health Minister comments

Doctors at Mater Dei's outpatients' departments will go on strike on Tuesday after a meeting between the Medical Association of Malta and Health Minister Chris Fearne this morning failed to register progress on the transfer of St Luke's, Karin Grech and Gozo hospitals to Steward Healthcare.

The directives will also affect health centres around Malta and Gozo. All scheduled non-urgent appointments at health centres will be re-scheduled, and routine repeat prescriptions shall be postponed to other dates.

MAM secretary general Martin Balzan said the Health Minister was agreeing with them in principle that in any future public-private partnerships, the government should not let go of operational matters. However, he said the government was insisting it could not pull out of the VGH deal covering the three State hospitals.

The meeting lasted two-and-a-half hours with Fearne telling MaltaToday that he offered to show MAM all the contracts linked to the VGH hospitals deal. "I offered them to bring over their legal advisors and look at all the documents linked to the concession agreement," Fearne said.

He acknowledged that despite progress on a few other issues, the government and MAM failed to agree on the way forward for the concession agreement involving Vitals.

"Back in May we had agreed with MAM that any future PPP arrangements will ensure the government retained full control but the VGH agreement could not be re-opened. The VGH agreement is what it is and it makes no sense to re-open that debate," Fearne said, confirming  the union will be holding a one-day strike tomorrow.

Fearne said he remained open to discussions. "The union has a right to resort to industrial action and I have a duty to ensure that patients will be cared for," he added.

MAM wants the hospitals concession deal to be scrapped after VGH decided to sell out to American firm Steward Healthcare.

Fearne said the transfer agreement between the companies was concluded and Steward were expected to take over the management of the three hospitals in the coming days.

Strike action

Doctors shall not report to district health centres, and smaller health centres in Gzira, Rabat, Birkirkara, Qormi and Cospicua.

However, all walk-in cases needing emergency care shall be seen to. 

House calls services will be limited to one doctor per health centre, using the usual protocol to determine which cases need to be seen to.

MAM said that its members will go out on strike at the Mater Dei outpatients department as well as all other peripheral outpatient clinics in both Malta and Gozo from 8am to 4pm.  The directive also applies to Karin Grech and Gozo General hospital.

Ward doctors at Mater Dei Hospital will be on work to rule, while doctors in administrative duties will not answer phone calls or emails.

No sickness certificates will be issued for discharged patients after 2:30pm at hospital, while no discharge letters, prescriptions or any paper work are to be issued from the discharge lounge. Foundation doctors will only fill in this paper work, if patients are in a normal ward.

After 2:30pm, only prescriptions for a three-day supply of medicine will be filled.

From 2.30 pm to 8am foundation doctors are only to deal with all urgent matters of a clinical nature and limit their paper work.

MAM said the directives will not apply to clinics at Sir Anthony Mamo oncology hospital and maternity clinics. 

There shall be no directives affecting the accident and emergency department either, or any of the acute wards.

"The outcome of this dispute may have implications for the next 30 years so please carefully consider the importance of this moment. As more privatisation looms on the horizon, it is essential that everyone is prepared, and follows the directives to the letter," the MAM members were told.