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Head of Ophthalmology sees no risks to patients if parliamentary secretary stops practising

Video: Jason Borg

Patients do not run the risk of ending up without an eye surgeon at Mater Dei hospital if Parliamentary Secretary Franco Mercieca stops practising his profession, according to the head of the ophthalmology department.

Thomas Fenech told timesofmalta.com this afternoon that the medical services offered by Mr Mercieca, a parliamentary secretary, have always been offered by other surgeons and will continue to be offered.

Mr Fenech said it was wrong to give the impression that certain medical services would not be offered at Mater Dei, or that patients would have to be sent abroad if Mr Mercieca stopped practising his medical profession.

Mr Mercieca was given a limited waiver to continue working as an eye surgeon by the Prime Minister, despite the provisions of the ministerial code of ethics which ban any private practice.

The parliamentary secretary was quoted by The Times today saying the limited waiver would allow him to follow up cases where he was “the sole medical practitioner in the field”.

He mentioned cornea and anterior segment surgery as speciality areas.

Meanwhile, the Nationalist Party said the Prime Minister’s decision to allow Parliamentary Secretary Franco Mercieca to perform eye operations despite the provisions of the ministerial code of ethics was ‘scandalous’ and should be stopped immediately.

“The prime minister has created a scandalous situation where Franco Mercieca is not only violating the code of ethics but, worse still, he is inevitably less focused on his primary responsibility, which is his work as parliamentary secretary for the elderly,” the party said.

The code of ethics bans private work and said ministers and parliamentary secretaries should devote all his time to official duties. The prohibition also covers consultancies and attendance at offices and clinics to give professional advice, even if the work is not remunerated.

Mr Mercieca told the newspaper he was not being paid for medical services in the public hospital but received remuneration for private practice.

The PN in its statement said the prime minister’s waiver confirmed that the government was going against its own promises when in opposition.

Gone, it said, were promises on transparency and good governance.

The code of ethics was not there to be quoted only when it suited the government, it said.

The rules in the code of ethics were clear about the ban on private work. In the interests of the seriousness which working in the government demanded, the code of ethics required those who accepted a ministerial post to leave private practice and dedicate their energy exclusively to the public service. In this way, any suspicion of conflict of interest was eliminated.

The PN said that this dangerous precedent should therefore  be stopped immediately.

MUSCAT DEFENDS DECISION

This morning, Dr Muscat defended his decision.

"Franco Mercieca has specialisations that few people in our country have and I felt he should be given permission to carry out some limited work so that patients do not suffer... At least until there are enough people specialised in this area," Dr Muscat said, stressing that Mr Mercieca was not a lawyer or an architect of whom there is a large number.

Asked whether the code of ethics was not important to him, Dr Muscat pointed out that in his first Cabinet meeting, he called for the code to be updated for today's needs.

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