Standards of Health Care in Malta
Over the years Malta has succeeded in maintaining high standards of health care given its small size and population. Way back in 1574 at the times of the Order of the Knights of St John, the Sacra Infermeria had started to operate in Valletta and it was considered to be one of the best hospitals in Europe.
During the First World War Malta earned itself the eponym “Nurse of the Mediterranean” by the care that it provided to thousands of wounded soldiers who were brought over to our country. Malta’s reputation of excellence in medical care continued during the Second World War when St. Luke’s Hospital assumed its role as the country’s main general hospital.
Many new public health services have been introduced in more recent years. The extensive extension of these services by successive Nationalist (PN) Governments has made it possible for Maltese patients to receive various forms of treatment that were previously unavailable to them. This has drastically reduced the need for these patients to travel abroad for the purpose of receiving medical care.
Such increase in the number of public health services coupled with the yearly worldwide increase in the price of medicines has raised health care expenses to exuberant amounts. Yet the PN Government has coped financially with this soaring up of prices in the health sector without imposing charges on health care.
In line with its tradition of guaranteeing the highest standards of care to the Maltese population the PN came up with the idea of building a state of the art national hospital way back in 1990. Mater Dei Hospital was opened just over a year ago. This landmark project which is the envy of much larger and wealthier neighboring countries is estimated to have cost €580 million to complete and to be currently costing around €2.8 million a week to keep it going. It stands over a total floor area of 250,000 sqm, has 825 beds and 25 operating theatres and serves as a teaching facility to the neighboring University of Malta.
The PN has shown in practice that it gives priority to quality over quantity in its bid to ensure the provision of comprehensive health services of a high standard to Maltese nationals. Shortly after the PN returned to office in 1987 the Institute of Health Care (IHC) was established within the University of Malta. The initial scope of the IHC was to organize undergraduate courses for health care professionals so as to equip them with the knowledge and skills that they require to give a more valid contribution towards the health care needs of individuals and specific client groups.
For the first time ever University courses started to be organized by the IHC at degree level for Nurses, Midwives, Physiotherapists, Occupational Therapists, Radiographers, Speech-Language Pathologists, Medical Laboratory Technologists, Environmental Health Officers, Podiatrists and Dental Technicians. In this way these health care professionals could join their colleagues in the medical, dentistry and pharmaceutical professions who had already been provided with University education for many years. Master’s courses for health care professionals eventually started to be held at university by 1994 and to date a considerably large number of nurses and paramedical professionals have benefited from these courses.
Public Officers in the Nursing and Paramedical grades were able to assume their roles and responsibilities with greater professionalism by virtue of the knowledge and competence that they attained as a result of the upgrading of their respective courses to University level. This factor alone enabled each and every one of these classes of workers to obtain a career stream with hierarchical grades enjoying considerably higher salary levels within the 20 level classification structures for the Public Service that became effective in 1993. New managerial posts were created for every class as part of the Public Service Reform while Nurses and Environmental Health Officers were given a higher post of Director. To make the considerably numerically larger Nursing Class complete a further three posts of Assistant Director were created with responsibility for the various respective areas of nursing.
Apart from a higher status and higher salaries, health care workers in government employment have started enjoying monetary allowances to compensate for the nature of their work that run into thousands of euros yearly. Furthermore doctors, dentists and pharmacists in the public service can claim a fixed sum of €1200 per year for continuing professional development, while nurses are entitled to €700 yearly for the same purpose.
The PN government also enacted the Health Care Professions Act of 2003, thus giving full autonomy to health care professions in their work and at the same time bringing Maltese legislation into line with the EU acquis on mutual recognition of professional qualifications.
It is certainly much to the credit of the PN that Malta is enjoying the high standards of health care that it has today.
This article appeared in the Times of Malta