Aqra dan l-artiklu bil-Malti.
The operations of the government’s Mental Health Services, which in 2022 cost taxpayers over €61 million, were found to be in total disarray, with many of its employees receiving tens of thousands of euros in non-documented overtime and allowances, according to a new National Audit Office (NAO) report.
Already highlighted by the recent case of MUMN boss Paul Pace, who was found to be paid allowances and overtime even while abroad on holiday, among many other abuses that were left unpunished, the new audit shed more light on issues in the Maltese mental healthcare sector.
Falling under the political remit of Health Minister Chris Fearne, the NAO found that staff at Mount Carmel Hospital were charging significant amounts of overtime to the point they exceeded the realms of possibility.
According to sampling testing done on the amount of overtime and allowances paid to some members of staff in 2022, it was found that some employees, including a senior nursing manager, a senior health carer, and a kitchen charge hand, have somehow managed to ‘work’ so much that their overtime surpassed their total basic pay, doubling their original income. No records were found on their actual attendance and hours backing their claims, but the payments were still made.
In the case of some medical consultants, the allowances they were being paid surpassed their basic pay by up to 200%.
Despite these evident red flags, no one from the management of Mount Carmel has taken any action, with the NAO finding a lack of control, checking, and adequate procedures to ensure this theft does not happen.
Mount Carmel is managed by CEO Stephanie Xuereb, the wife of the politically appointed Chairman of the OHSA, David Xuereb.
In a case flagged by the NAO, a basic specialist trainee (junior doctor) told the auditors that in one particular week, he worked two uninterrupted periods of 31 hours each and a shift of 24 hours. He claimed and was paid for a total of 93 consecutive hours without going to sleep or having a break.
“NAO has reservations on whether an officer could work for such long hours, with no periods of rest, except for the official break time deduction of 15 minutes in two of three instances,” the NAO diplomatically said.
Overpayments were the order of the day
A doctor was found to receive allowances for working on three Sundays every month when he only worked three Sundays a year, being paid an extra €6,480.
While break time was frequently calculated as overtime, some professionals, particularly nurses, took leave on their normal working shifts just to work long stretches of overtime immediately after.
The audit also uncovered a regular occurrence, particularly among professionals, who were giving services to third parties and other government departments and getting paid for it when they were supposed to be on duty at Mount Carmel.
Apart from his salary, a principal psychologist also received €44,000 in allowances for services he gave as a court expert during his regular office hours. No documents supporting his hours and the exact dates of this ‘service’ were found.
The NAO noted that while similar instances were flagged in a 2014 audit, the situation was persisting.
Interestingly, as soon as the NAO audit started, the Mental Health Services officer responsible for the payroll for most of 2022 left on long leave.
No “adequate handover was given, even though management had sufficient time to find a replacement, as it was aware of the situation well in advance,” the NAO said.