MMSA raises concerns regarding the future of healthcare - the Health Ministry and Vitals Global Healthcare respond

During a meeting held with the Minister for Health, Chris Fearne and the Chief Operations Officer of VGH, Eric Buehrens, the Malta Medical Students’ Association (MMSA) raised a number of concerns regarding the future of the Maltese Health care system. The main points discussed included:

1) Further Plans for privatisation within the local health sector

2) The effect Barts medical students would have on clinical rotations for both clinical students and Foundation Doctors

3) How the government planned to ensure quality patient care for patients being treated in the PPP hospitals run by VGH as how evidence based methods treating our patients will be ensured.

Minister Fearne reassured the Association that Primary Healthcare would be run by the government. He explained that the new Kirkop Health Centre and the regional health centre at Paola, Paola Hub, will be managed solely by government. Other Major projects planned would be built on the Mater Dei campus, these include the Mother and Child Hospital, the new Out Patients Block and a new Mental Health Facility. All the above mentioned, explained Minister Fearne, will fall under the responsibility of Mater Dei management, and thus under the sole responsibility of the Government.

The recently set up Board of Directors of Mental Health is currently discussing a holistic strategy for Mental Health in Malta. This will include the refurbishment of parts of Mount Carmel Hospital. The direction is that psychiatric care given at Mount Carmel Hospital will remain managed by Government.

Present at the meeting were also representatives from Vitals Global Healthcare who were also asked about their plans for the running of Karin Grech Hospital, St Luke’s Hospital, and Gozo General Hospital. The MMSA voiced its concerns about the University of Malta (UOM) students’ educational attachments at Karin Grech hospital (KGH) and how these will be impacted now that KGH is run by VGH. In this regard both the Minister for Health and VGH officials confirmed that attachments at both Karin Grech and Gozo General Hospital will still take place as has been done in previous years. Doctors will still have the opportunity of rotating through the PPP's hospitals, as per Foundation School agreement. The vast majority of clinical teaching for Barts students will be based at Gozo, St Luke's and the community. Clinical teaching at Mater Dei will be staggered to ensure a small number of Barts students is present at Mater Dei campus at any given time.

Concerns regarding the delays in construction works of Barts Medical School in Gozo along with the delay in development of KGH and St. Luke’s facilities were also brought to attention. On this the MMSA asked whether Barts students would make use of Mater Dei’s educational facilities, thus hindering our students from attaining the best medical exposure and education possible. On this, both entities explained how the University of Malta and Barts Medical School were collaborating closely on timetabling and other matters, to see that all students receive high quality education and exposure. The Medical Students’ Association was reassured that works on the Barts Campus had started and that for the first year these would participate in lectures in Gozo with no impact to Maltese Medical Students.

When asked by the MMSA how VGH and the Government planned to ensure high quality care to patients and to reassure that profit would not be given priority to patient care, VGH said that their first and foremost focus was that of providing high quality care to all patients. The officials explained that in order to attract foreign patients, they would need to provide high quality services and a reputation for quality care. VGH officials also explained how they were already in the process of applying for JCI accreditation for all its hospitals. This would ensure that standards are maintained at all times. Minister Fearne also explained that VGH were bound by a number of Key Performance Indicators which the government monitored monthly, which ensured that obligations and standards are adhered to. In the event that KPI's are defaulted on, VGH will be penalized as per signed contract. In the case of a major contract breach government will step in to take over the running of all three hospitals.

MMSA were reassured that beds and services reserved for Maltese and Gozitans patients will remain free of charge. Vgh will be charging international patients who will occupy beds in access of the beds reserved for government that is in access of the 250 beds in Gozo, and the 270 beds at Karin Grech and 80 beds at the new St. Luke's Hospital reserved for government.

The MMSA explained that student members of the organisation had chosen this profession to be of service to their patients and to provide the best care possible, and that they deserved clarity and clear understanding of plans for the future. They should not look at their future with uncertainty. The MMSA expressed their wish for all stakeholders to be brought to the table to discuss plans for the future, and to pull the same rope, ensuring that members of the Maltese Community would continue to receive the best quality care possible.

The Minister added that the door was always open for fruitful discuss to take place.

The MMSA will continue to monitor the above mentioned issues and persistently advocate for our students’ future and continue to advocate for a healthcare system that puts its patients at its centre - a healthcare system whose cornerstone is the education that our health care providers receive.