Monday, 30 July 2007

Where Have All the Doctors Gone???

A few days ago, I went to see a General Practitioner (GP) at the St James Hospital in Sliema. I was instructed to wait in the Emergency Care Unit section. I found that rather odd since it had never happened to me before. In the past, whenever I went to see a GP at the hospital, I used to wait for around 10 to 15 minutes in an area close to the reception desk.

This time, things were totally different. The waiting area was different and so was the time spent waiting to be seen by a doctor. I waited for at least 40 minutes and even though I asked two staff members for further assistance, I was merely told that someone would eventually call my name. The number of people in the area started to increase. The facial expression on some faces started turning from boredom to frustration. Since I had to meet my dad, I could not wait any longer; I left the hospital, informing one of the receptionists that I was going to return later on.

I returned to the hospital at around 06:30PM. I waited for an additional hour or so!!! I went to complain to one of the nurses and to the receptionist. Around 10 minutes after I complained, a nurse called my name. As was the case on previous occasions, I was expecting to be accompanied to a room in which I could talk to the GP about my problems. Wrong! I was escorted to an area that was separated from the other clients by a curtain!!! Just for those of you who still do not know this, the St James Hospital is a private hospital. Given all the expectations associated with the service provided at such a type of hospital, the treatment that the clients were receiving on that day was grossly disappointing.

The fee for the GP consultation was also higher than before. In the past, I always paid Lm5.00 for a GP consultation, but I was charged Lm8.00 when I went! When I enquired about this increase at the reception desk, I was informed that the fee was higher since I had received the treatment after 8PM. Well, I had returned to the hospital at 06:30PM; it was not my fault if I ended up receiving the treatment after 8PM!!!!

A couple of days later, I was talking to a nurse who works at the St James Hospital in Sliema. I told her about my experience at the hospital earlier during the week and asked her if there was a staff problem. Looking sadly, she commented that there was a huge shortage of GPs. She informed me that the hospital had issued vacancies for GPs with a starting salary of Lm14,000, but nobody was applying!!! Many doctors were going abroad almost immediately after graduating from university, leaving the country with a need for more doctors. The shortage of doctors is also putting a huge amount of pressure on the ones who remain in Malta; the remaining doctors have to meet the medical demands of the population in Malta and the work that should be done by three people is apparently often being done by one person whose physical resources are stretched to the limit!

It seems that most of the doctors who are graduating from the University of Malta are going abroad because of the appalling working conditions that exist in Malta. The Maltese government is surely to blame for allowing the working conditions to be so bad to push the bulk of Malta's graduating doctors to other parts of the world. Solving this problem should be a priority if we want to avoid a continuation of the current crisis in the medical services sector.

Seeking what is best for oneself, I can understand a young doctor's desire to go abroad immediately after graduating from university in order to earn more money and to enjoy better working conditions. Yet, when one considers the fact that Maltese university students are able to get an education for FREE (not to mention the grant which is received on a monthly basis), I believe that every graduate should spend some time working in Malta before going abroad. If the country has invested in you by allowing you to pursue your education freely, it is only reasonable to expect that that act of goodwill should be returned. In retrospect, perhaps Dom Mintoff (one of Malta's former Prime Ministers) was not totally wrong when he insisted that graduating doctors should spend around two years working in Malta before being allowed to practise in other countries.

Apart from rectifying the working conditions problems, I believe that the government should also do more to encourage young people to study medicine so that we can overcome the current shortage of doctors. Doctors might be contracted from foreign countries, but the process might take time and there is no guarantee that a desired number would be willing to come over to work here on a long-term basis.

1 comment:

La delirante said...

This situation is really scary.