Updated 3pm with health ministry response

A doctor whose operation was postponed because of ongoing industrial action by nurses has criticised the union and the government for their actions.

Margaret Spiteri, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, said she was "very upset" to learn that her knee operation, due on April 4, has been postponed. 

“I do everything to put my patients' well-being first, I even postponed my own surgery so that I can carry out my patients' surgery, and then I experience this situation,” the Gozitan doctor told Times of Malta.

In response, the health ministry said it presented new proposals to the Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses for a new sectoral agreement on Thursday and discussions are ongoing. 

Earlier this week, the ministry said that planned procedures are being postponed due to the MUMN deciding "on a day-by-day basis, which theatres should function and which operations will take place". 

The union has ordered its members not to perform a range of functions as part of an industrial dispute over the pay and working conditions of nurses and midwives.

Spiteri had her first knee replacement surgery on her left leg back in December and the operation for her right leg was booked to take place at Gozo General this week.

She said she was told the operation was being postponed due to the industrial action. Now she has no indication of when it will take place.

“I personally need this knee replacement so I can continue with my life and my work,” the 59-year-old said. 

“I walk with great difficulty and with a terrible limp, which impacts my quality of life and is impacting my hip and ankle. It also impacts my work day, as if there is an emergency and I am needed in another ward I cannot run or get there quickly.”

'Ripple effect'

She said the delay of her knee operation has a “ripple effect” on her patients as she will now only be focusing on outpatients and theatre sessions. 

“It is just ridiculous to think that there are already long waiting lists for surgeries in Malta and Gozo, and now these strikes are added to the equation,” she said. 

"Industrial actions are legal, but you cannot leave the situation as it is, especially for people who need operations, urgent or not. The government needs to do something."

She is also shocked that there is no update from the authorities or government on the negotiations. 

“More than two weeks have passed and no response on the situation from the government. Absolutely nothing. How long will this go on? And how many more patients will be impacted?”

Last Sunday Spiteri sent an email to Prime Minister Robert Abela and Health Minister Chris Fearne on the situation, yet received no replies. 

Same-day cancellations

Spiteri has also heard of many other patients who have had surgeries postponed, and how it has impacted them.

“I know of one person whose daughter had to travel from London so that she could take care of her after her surgery, yet now it has been postponed,” she said.

“All colonoscopy procedures have been cancelled. People have to prepare themselves for such a procedure days before and on the same day they are told it is cancelled. It’s not right.”

She said it is unfair to cancel operations simply because they are not “urgent”.

“How can you say what is urgent or not? People would have booked these operations months in advance, and booked leave and everything beforehand.”

Paul Pace, president of the MUMN, declined to comment. 

Fresh measures

Earlier this week, the MUMN intensified its industrial action with fresh measures aimed specifically at those working in Gozo General. 

Nurses were ordered not to assist at the dermatology, neurology, DOP, SOP, paediatrics, ophthalmic, cardio, ENT, rheumatology, nephrology, and respiratory clinics.

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

Another set of ongoing directives impacts all public hospitals with the exception of the Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre. 

The union says the industrial action is a result of the “humiliating” and “demotivating” government proposals during negotiations for a new sectoral agreement. 

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