The Malta Red Cross is planning to set up a “field” hospital on the island for about 200 Libyans to ease the pressure on overcrowded hospitals in the conflict-stricken country, according to sources close to the NGO.

This news comes one day after plans to transfer a group of wounded Libyans to Malta had to be shelved due to lack of space, The Times has learnt.

About 20 Libyans were expected to be transferred from Misurata hospital, including some critically injured patients.

Since there are no beds left in Mater Dei Hospital’s intensive care unit, the Maltese government offered to take a smaller number of patients, namely the ones which did not require such intensive care and could be admitted to Saint James Hospital for recovery instead.

However, when this offer reached the relatives of the patients at Misurata hospital, the group decided on an “all or nothing” policy and made plans to fly to Greece instead, according to various sources.

The government has so far not given an official reason for why the planeload of patients never arrived despite a press conference being called for Monday afternoon.

In response to a series of question by The Times, a Health Ministry spokesman did not give an explanation to Monday’s incident but said: “The Maltese government never refused to treat any patients that could be treated in Malta.”

Malta has in recent weeks upped the ante in its drive to provide humanitarian aid but space has now become an issue, as complaints are being raised by nurses.

One way of resolving this issue is being proposed by the Malta Red Cross, which is currently negotiating with the International Federation of Red Cross societies (IFRC) to set up a field hospital in Malta.

The hospital would be funded and manned by the IFRC and aided by the Maltese government. But discussions are still in their preliminary stages, according to sources close to the Malta Red Cross.

Patients are already being identified and include a number of critically-injured people and even some children.

A space still has to be identified for the field hospital to be set up but a number of options are available. Sources said one idea is for containers to be placed around Mater Dei Hospital so that some services could be shared.

Another idea being considered is to use St Philip’s Hospital, which has around 150 beds already available.

Meanwhile, responding to The Times’ questions, a Health Ministry spokesman said Malta has continuously made all services it could provide available to the Libyan people to help them fulfil their aspirations.

To date, 26 patients were brought to Malta, eight of whom received treatment at Saint James Hospital.

“The number of patients that are transferred to Malta and the nature of the interventions are made according to the number of beds available and according to whether the treatment can be provided in Malta, following clinical assessment, in the best interest of the patient,” the spokesman said.

The government is paying for the medical treatment of all patients at Mater Dei, while transportation is being covered by other parties, including the Qatari government.

“The situation in Libya will continue being reassessed and the Maltese government will continue providing assistance to the people of Libya, including in healthcare.”

The Times will today hold a public debate on Malta’s role in the Libyan conflict and the future development of the country.

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