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Lessons in disruption

The health sector is never too far from controversies as it seems that the management of public services continues to be the Achilles’ heel of this administration. Following the privatisation of the management of the Gozo General Hospital, an agreement was struck with the Medical Association of Malta committing the government to remain responsible for recruiting medical staff.

It now seems that the Health Ministry has failed to plan well ahead of time to ensure that the hospital was adequately staffed with senior medical professionals to provide the services the people of Gozo expect from their hospital. The result is a disruption in various departments, including those of medicine and paediatrics. This disruption risks evolving into a crisis unless the recruitment process is accelerated to fill all the critical posts that will enable the Gozo hospital to function effectively.

The Labour Party, when in Opposition, had criticised the past administration for the mismanagement of public services. It was particularly critical, and still is, about the severe shortcomings in the building of Mater Dei Hospital as well as the long waiting lists for surgery and the shortage of stocks of medicine to which patients were entitled.

This administration, like the one before it, has only nibbled at the challenge of providing a sustainable free healthcare model. While the financing element remains the most challenging, it appears that poor operational management continues to affect the health service. While many can attest to the dedication of most of the medical staff, it appears the strategic management of the health service remains weak.

It is the health policymakers’ responsibility to ensure that long-term planning of the running of our hospitals is combined with professional operational management to guarantee to the users of our hospital system, who, in fact, finance our health service, a quality service that they deserve.

The objections to the privatisation of sectors of the management of the health service have so far focused mainly on the opaque way in which the process was conducted. The government justified this process by claiming that, through privatisation, it would be guaranteeing the viability of our free health system.

Some may argue the health authorities have abdicated their responsibility to ensure that the clients of our healthcare system get an adequate service.

The disruption that exists at present in the Gozo hospital is evidence that the Health Ministry may still lack the competence of guaranteeing stress-free services to patients. The doctors’ union tried to help out in the mitigation of the self-inflicted administrative failure by sending consultants from Malta to help out their colleagues in Gozo.

This assistance is a temporary measure and could well save the government some blushes caused by this avoidable disruption. However, long-term solutions are needed, including anticipating recruitment needs well in advance, thus avoiding crises situations.

Short-termism plagues most political administrations because the electoral cycle does not help a long-term planning mindset. In a year’s time, the country will be asked to elect its representatives at the European Parliament and Gozo is likely to be a political battleground where candidates will promise heaven on earth to the electorate, including on healthcare.

One can only hope that disruption in the health service will be addressed in earnest.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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