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Perfect example of working politics

Politics is all about creating a long-term positive difference. As Minister for Health and as an MP, it is my responsibility to seek to make a difference to the nation’s health, to the well being of each individual in the country, in the context of man’s health across the wider international settings.

Politics is all about creating a long-term positive difference
- Joe Cassar

The main tool to use is the development of effective policies. One policy the current administration has developed is to make use of specialised services outside our country’s healthcare system, if and when the indication is to do so.

A major outcome of our efforts upon such policy unfolded last September when, on behalf of the Government I signed three separate agreements with the Italian Government, which translate in the provision of specialised healthcare procedures to Maltese and Gozitan patients at Italian hospitals.

Maltese patients suffering from certain complex diseases and in need of specialised care will be referred to highly specialised regional centres and hospitals in Italy, where they are to receive the best treatment and management for their condition.

The agreements were signed by the health commissioners for the Lombardy region, Sicilian region and Tuscan region. All agreements were countersigned and endorsed by the Italian Minister for Health, Renato Balduzzi.

These agreements build upon a previous Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Maltese and Italian ministries in December 2009 and cover the diagnosis and highly specialised treatment of Maltese patients in Italy, the exchange of medical information and research, specialist training for Maltese and Italian healthcare professionals, the joint participation in medical networks, research programmes and development projects and collaboration in other twinning projects between Italy and Malta.

In practical terms this agreement is already resulting in patients living a better quality of life after encountering a specific challenging medical situation.

Some Maltese patients have indeed already benefited from treatment in Italy. Patients requiring lung transplants have already been assessed at the ISMETT centre in Sicily and one other patient is currently recovering from a lung transplant. More patients will be referred for other procedures in the coming months.

We are currently working to set up a similar collaborative programme for the treatment of kidney-pancreas conditions in Pisa. Patients have already been sent for assessment and treatment in Milan.

Italy is, of course, not the only country enabling us to optimise the healthcare services that patients with specific diseases and conditions need. During the past four years, more than 2,000 Maltese and Gozitan patients have been given specialised medical treatment in the UK.

This treatment is delivered by specialised professionals in fields our own healthcare system does not provide in Malta, for various reasons. The size of our population and thus the rarity of the demand for very specialised services is one main reason.

A few days ago I met Bernard Bonnici, who has travelled to London to receive specialised treatment over eight times this year alone. Mr Bonnici pointed out that although he was afraid at first, he now feels safe, especially since he knows he is being treated by the best expertise in the world, in the specific field of practice where his own rare needs lie.

“A basic internet search showed up the names of the best professionals in the field – there I saw the names of my doctors in London. I am being treated by the best professionals in one of the best hospitals in the world,” Mr Bonnici said.

Through such agreements we provide the best possible service for all Maltese and Gozitan citizens. We invested in agreements with Puttinu Cares and the Franciscan Nuns who allow patients to have free accommodation, paid for by the Government.

We also understand that such moments are never easy and therefore provide spiritual services through an agreement with the Franciscan Friars (Fathers) who reside in London. The same friars also provide interpretation services to ease communication in challenging moments.

This is how I view working politics. The fact that such initiatives, such investments through well-planned agreements, will not stop once the legislature is over, but will go on for years to come, illustrates a perfect example of working politics.

Politics is not about being a Labourite or Nationalist. It is about the desire and commitment to create a strong, long-term positive difference. Anything else is not an option we can afford to consider.

Dr Cassar is Minister for Health.

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