The Commissioner for Health within the Office of the Ombudsman, Professor Ray Galea, has offered to mediate for a solution to the nurses’ dispute which is affecting patient care.

“The Commissioner is extending his offer to facilitate a prompt and fair resolution, ensuring that the interests of all stakeholders are fairly represented,” his spokesperson Times of Malta on Wednesday.

It followed a letter he sent to Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses president, Paul Pace, and the Permanent Secretary of the Health Ministry, Joseph Chetcuti.

The Health Ministry said on Tuesday that it had decided to refer an ongoing industrial dispute to conciliation, in line with the collective agreement.

However the union has criticised the attempt for further conciliations, accusing the government of a U-turn on a promise to discuss asking for additional funding at cabinet. 

The directives issued by the MUMN have raised concerns by other healthcare professions, particularly in view of the risks to patients from delayed surgeries.

In his letter, dated April 11, Prof Galea emphasised the importance of balancing worker rights and employer responsibilities and encouraged both parties to prioritise patient welfare.

“Balancing these two rights may prove somewhat of a very skilful juggling act which is not handled with the utmost of care, can have untoward repercussions which involve the healthcare of innocent third parties who are by definition a vulnerable group,” he wrote in his letter.

“It is unacceptable that patients are made to suffer because of an industrial dispute…People of all ages are experiencing unfair treatment (or lack of) through no fault of their own and this is causing unnecessary anguish in situations that may be already very stressful,” he continued.

He appealed to their “good sense” in solving the situation by reaching an agreement “that is fair and equitable for all concerned including patients and their families”.

But the MUMN charged back on Wednesday, calling on the government to confirm its final proposals in pay talks and not hide behind conciliation meetings.

Just last Thursday, it said, the government's representatives had told it that they were ready to discuss the sectorial agreement at Cabinet level so as to seek additional funding.

“After analysing the Health Ministry press release, it is crystal clear that a U-turn was made by the government and instead of going to Cabinet, (it has) decided to go to a conciliation meeting which has no authority to seek additional funding as promised by the Health officials in our last meeting,” the union said.

The MUMN ordered widespread industrial action in March, claiming there was no money for nurses as talks on a new collective agreement stalled.

Under the directives, nurses at health centres will stop accompanying doctors at health centre clinics, stop vaccinations relating to travel and stop clerical work including answering the phone.

Those at the Gozo hospital have been ordered not to assist at the dermatology, neuro, urology, DOP, SOP, paediatrics, ophthalmic, cardio, ENT, rheumatology, nephrology, and respiratory clinics.

They have also been ordered not to perform any pre-ops excluding confirmed oncology operations and paediatrics operations.

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