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Free health care for all is ‘unsustainable’

Free health care for all cannot be sustained for much longer, and the sooner the situation is addressed the better, Mater Dei Hospital’s newly-appointed CEO has warned in an interview with The Sunday Times. - See http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20110731/interview/Time-to-handle-with-care.378033

Joseph Caruana, an engineer who has been working in top management for 20 years, believes that from a business point of view the provision of free health services is “definitely not sustainable”.

He added that the country cannot continue pumping out money in an “unlimited manner”.

“It is difficult to say how long we can sustain free health care. It all depends on how long government finances can carry it and with time it’s going to become more expensive,” Mr Caruana said.

However, Health Minister Joe Cassar was quick to stress that “health is not a business”, but a social aspect of life, and the government will be doing its utmost to sustain this.

“For this government, health is an important aspect of the social support we offer our people. Sustainability is a major challenge not just for our country. We will continue to find ways to sustain our free health services as promised,” Dr Cassar said when contacted.

Free health care was a political hot potato ahead of the last general election when the Labour Party accused the Nationalist government of planning to impose fees on health services in the wake of a Cabinet report. But the government had insisted the report was taken out of context and maintained health care will remain free.

It costs about €500,000 a day to run Mater Dei, but this will increase with advances in medicine, a longer life expectancy, and the change in biomedical engineering that means updating hospital equipment and investing in training.

“The present situation cannot be sustained for very much longer. There are also pressures at EU level to give proper full patient care, and if we want to move in this direction every cent must count. So there is going to be increased accountability in every cent spent,” Mr Caruana said.

“The sooner we start to address the situation the better. You can address the problem internally from an efficiency standpoint, but the snowball effect of improved medical services, equipment, and training is much bigger than the efficiency gains we can make.”

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