Junior health minister promises 170 new hospital beds by 2017

Parliamentary Secretary for Health says, 'overcrowding is not a problem of our making, but it is one which we will solve'

By the end of this year, 69 new bedspaces will be available at Mater Dei hospital and this number will increase by a further 100 by 2017, according to Parliamentary Secretary for Health Chris Fearne.

The declaration came during of Saviour Balzan’s weekly discussion forum Reporter, which this week tackled several issues surrounding public healthcare and featured Claudette Buttigieg, shadow minister for health across the table from Fearne.

Buttigieg criticised the government for not delivering on their electoral promises. “In their electoral program they promised a solution and had had clearly stated that they were implementing a plan. Two years down the line where is this plan, and what have they implemented?” 

Fearne countered, saying that one also had to note the starting point for this government. “We should have 385 hospital beds per 100,000 citizens. At St. Luke’s Hospital we had 299. With the opening of Mater Dei, this went down to 257. In fact, in 2012 there were 500 beds less than required.”

“We are now at a point where St. Luke’s Hospital is being refurbished and by May, the oncology department will have moved out of Boffa hospital. We are currently identifying the best way to use the bed spaces these developments will free up.”

“This [overcrowding] is not a problem of our making, but it is one which we will solve” said Fearne.

He referred to plans for the construction of two extra wards above the emergency department, made by previous PN health minister Joe Cassar, which were shelved when it was found that the structure could not support the weight due to the quality of the concrete used.

“We have found a different site and works are underway,” said the health secretary, announcing that by the end of this year 69 new bed spaces would be available in a new ward currently being constructed. This will go up by another 100 in 2017 once two planned storeys are added on top of this new structure. “We will have increased bedspaces in Mater Dei by a third in two years, bearing in mind that this hospital took 17 years to build.”

Surely the fact that the labour administration had a trump card in pointing to the 17 years it took the Nationalists to get Mater Dei operating put Buttigieg at a disadvantage when discussing this issue, asked Balzan.

Buttigieg said that her main concern at the moment was the dignity of the hospital’s patients. Reading from a copy of Labour’s electoral “roadmap”, taking issue with the promise that a solution was to be “implemented immediately”.

Fearne identified three points of progress: out of stock medicines, waiting lists and bedspaces. In addition to the bedspace solution, a new stock management system had solved the medicines problem, said Fearne. He said that there was a long way to go with respect to the waiting list issue, but pointed out that great progress had been made, giving the example of the slashing of the waiting time for an MRI from 18 months to just 4.

Fearne was confident about the road ahead for healthcare “For the first time in many years it is achieving positive results. The problems are getting smaller, not bigger.”

Reporter, hosted by Saviour Balzan, airs every Monday at 20:40 on TVM2, with a repeat at 21:55 on TVM.


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