Cancer chief resigns after advice ‘repeatedly ignored’
The head of Mater Dei Hospital’s oncology department, Stephen Brincat, has resigned saying the government repeatedly ignored his advice on various important issues, making his position untenable.
As a result, decisions were taken that wasted “hundreds of thousands or euro”, Prof. Brincat told The Times.
“The duties of a clinical chairman of a hospital department are not just to lead the service provision of that department but also to advise the government on matters pertaining to that speciality, cancer in this case.
“When that advice is repeatedly ignored, the position becomes untenable,” he said.
Prof. Brincat’s resignation was raised by Labour Party health spokesman Marie Louise Coleiro Preca, who said he resigned because of clashes over policy and disorganisation at the Sir Paul Boffa cancer hospital in Floriana.
A Health Ministry spokesman said Prof. Brincat was resisting plans to merge the oncology and haematology departments, which deal with cancer and blood disease respectively, and also objected to extending chemotherapy services to Gozo.
“His resignation was accepted, providing the opportunity for these new, exciting changes to occur and for all the developments that have long been planned to finally be rolled out, also in order to bring this department to acceptable international standards, in preparation for the new cancer centre,” the spokesman said.
The Health Ministry said merging the departments was in line with common clinical practices.
“This new configuration reflects the aggregation of services that are being planned for the new Oncology Centre where a number of specialities would be working and housed together,” the spokesman said.
In a detailed reply to questions sent by The Times, Prof. Brincat listed more than two reasons for his resignation.
He disagreed with the policy to deliberately keep the National Cancer Plan a secret from the professionals that were meant to execute it until the day it was published.
He said that when he was asked whether he thought it was best to move oncology from Boffa to Mater Dei seven years ago, his answer “was a clear, though reluctant one, in favour of Mater Dei to join the other specialities”.
“Without the slightest bit of planning we were ordered to go to Zammit Clapp. After three years of useless planning we were then told we’d be going to Mater Dei.
“Apart from the hundreds of thousands of euro wasted, we wasted three precious years during which the life span of our single old linear accelerator (a machine) for treating cancer patients was fast running out,” he said.
He repeatedly warned the Health Department about the danger to the service, “but I was told that the political decision had been taken and that I should therefore shut up”.
Eventually, after the machine broke down several times, a new wing was built at Boffa to house a machine that had to eventually be moved to Mater Dei at a great expense. “As always, no one is accountable,” he said.
Recently, he said, he was ordered to provide chemotherapy services in Gozo.
“The oncology department has never been in favour of this as it would have meant offering a poorer quality service in Gozo due to a lack of trained and experienced staff.
“Notwithstanding, I did as ordered and gave the department a plan that would have allowed us to deliver a limited service safely and to a reasonably high standard.
“Rather than accept this, the Health Department opted for a rush job to be set up in under a month, together with nonsensical clinical instructions on how to implement this,” he said.
The last straw was the decision to amalgamate two specialities, oncology and haematology, under one chairman.
He felt that accepting this would be “presumptuous” as he was not an expert in both fields and the administration would leave him no time for patients.
“When it was made clear last week that this advice was not being accepted I resigned with immediate effect,” he said, adding that he will continue in his post as a consultant oncologist.