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Mater Dei emergency doctors being sent to work at Steward’s Gozo Hospital

“Apart from being annoyed at how we are being used and abused to fix the roster problem at a private hospital, we are also concerned about infection control” – doctor

A group of doctors. Photo: Luis Melendez

Emergency doctors who work at Mater Dei Hospital are being called to work at the Gozo General Hospital amid the Coronavirus outbreak, doctors who spoke to The Shift confirmed.

Gozo General Hospital is one of the three hospitals run by private company Steward Healthcare, which took over the concession from Vitals Global Healthcare that also includes public hospitals St Luke’s and Karin Grech – at a cost of €188,000 daily, or €70 million per year. The government also pays for medical staff.

Two emergency doctors working at Mater Dei told The Shift that prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the doctors had to, on roster, work in the emergency department of the Gozo Hospital until staffing issues were seen to for a period of six weeks.

However, despite the six week agreement drawing to an end, another roster is now being drawn up, with emergency doctors having to leave Mater Dei to work in Gozo on a weekly basis.

Work at the hospital is compulsory, the doctors said. “Apart from being annoyed at how we are being used and abused again to fix the roster problem at a private hospital, we are also concerned about infection control.” 

One of the doctors explained they were currently self-isolating and have left home to protect their family members.

“We are now being told that it is ok to go to a ‘clean’ hospital and possibly contaminate it if we are asymptomatic carriers for the time being,” the doctor said.

Another medical doctor who also preferred to remain anonymous told The Shift that the plan was to involve the infection control department to assess how to make a transfer safe.

Such a situation is putting a further burden on doctors at Mater Dei who are working in the public hospital’s emergency department where the staff is already smaller due to doctors and healthcare workers keeping quarantined and taking other safety precautions.

The doctors stressed they were prepared to handle the strain and do all that was necessary to patients safe despite the inconvenience. It was the fact that they were being “used to literally plug holes in the system of a private hospital where (people’s) taxes go was simply unacceptable”.

Last week, The Shift revealed that Steward Healthcare was sending patients in Gozo who tested positive for COVID-19 to Malta’s public hospital Mater Dei, which is managed by the government. This increased the burden on the already stretched medical staff as was highlighted by a third medical doctor who reacted publicly, saying the offloading was “unrealistic”.

In a press conference at Gozo General Hospital on Saturday, a spokesperson for Steward Healthcare attempted to justify The Shift’s revelations last week. They also announced the launch of a new air ambulance and over 100 new beds to deal with the COVID-19 situation. 

The hospital should already be equipped with a helicopter for emergency services but this was not being used and patients were being transferred on chartered ferries. Now, the company has announced yet another air ambulance service but it is not clear who was carrying this cost. Questions sent to Steward Healthcare and the Health Ministry on this matter were not answered until the time of writing.

Steward Healthcare has already come under fire over its failure to meet commitments on increased hospital beds, with St Luke’s Hospital also left in disarray. On Tuesday, the announcement of a government call for a pre-fabricated hospital during the spread of coronavirus was met with criticism and raised further questions about the role and service being given by the company.

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