The Malta Association of Public Health Medicine (MAPHM) has unreservedly condemned the re-deployment of the consultant responsible for leading the Public Health Response Team, describing it as “a shocking development” intended to “punish and intimidate health care professionals carrying out their duties”.
The association represents public health doctors, including among its members Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci (who previously formed part of the executive committee) as well as Kenneth Grech, the co-ordinator of Malta’s COVID-19 response team who was told by the government that he was to be redeployed after he advised the Education Ministry and other schools that they do not reopen after Christmas. The advice was leaked.
The government said Grech was to redeployed to work on the national health strategy, but the point was dismissed by the association that said it has “obviously nothing to do with mapping out a National Strategy to secure EU funds since other public health specialists were already assigned to work on this”.
MAPHM said in a statement the government’s move demonstrates a lack of respect towards professionals and recklessness in decision-making.
“The role of the public health specialist is to provide the evidence base and data to allow for entities to consider options for policymaking. It is apparent that the government’s tactics are to punish and intimidate any health care professional carrying out their professional duties.”
The association added: “This move is being widely interpreted as an attempt to muzzle those professionals who value evidence-based approaches, integrity and who keep the health and safety of our country paramount”.
MAPHM said it has been overwhelmed by support from the public and other professionals. “The hundreds of people working within the COVID-19 Response Team over the last year are saddened, disappointed, and frustrated by this news. It is our families, friends and neighbours who will have to suffer the consequences of these decisions when they end up in a hospital which is overcrowded and overwhelmed due to the government’s failure to support us in saving lives and protecting the public’s health”.
The government has denied the redeployment of Grech was linked to his advice to the Education Ministry. Yet several organisations representing nurses, doctors and teachers have called for his reinstatement.
Opposition Leader Bernard Grech has said the move reflected the prime minister’s “arrogance”, saying Robert Abela did not allow for expert advice that did not fit into what he wanted.