The government is paying young doctors extra wages to draw patients’ blood and counter months-long union directives that are being followed by phlebotomists, Times of Malta has learnt.

The phlebotomists are obeying directives issued by the Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses in a dispute over a sectoral agreement due to replace the one that expired in January last year.

Sources close to the hospital said the doctors were receiving remuneration to draw blood instead of the phlebotomists, in an effort to reduce the hardships caused to patients.

Phlebotomists have been ordered to limit the number of patients they see every day and to stop outsourcing work or tackling waiting lists. This is having an adverse effect on patients who go to Mater Dei hospital to have blood drawn, the sources said.

Sometimes, patients turn up for a hospital appointment only to be sent back home. One patient said she had been waiting for an hour only for her and 14 other patients, including some elderly, to be informed the quota of the day had been reached and they should go home.

Another, in a letter to Times of Malta wrote: "What's going on right now at the phlebotomy department at Mater Dei is ridiculous to say the least. There's some sort of industrial action by whoever performs blood draws and people are only being notified once they arrive at the department at Mater Dei. I had an appointment today at 11am and despite two SMS confirmations that I received, I was only told that my blood test would not be happening due to a 'strike'. There were numerous people in the room and I'm also happy to provide more documentation (SMS screenshots and appointment docs).

"No one accepts any responsibility for the notifications and people booking days off from work to make it to their appointments are wasting their time and money."

We’ve had enough of dangerous directives

The directives were issued by the MUMN several months ago, following unproductive talks. Discussions have stalled, with the general election contributing to the stalemate.

Doctors had already stepped in to draw blood from patients in urgent cases. But sources said the government is now paying them extra to cover the non-urgent cases and blood drawing in wards.

Last December, the doctors’ union gave the government an ultimatum to settle the dispute with phlebotomists, saying doctors had been left with a heavier burden of work.

The president of the Medical Association of Malta, Martin Balzan, says it is the responsibility of hospital management to ensure patients are not placed in harm’s way. Doctors were going beyond their call of duty because for them, patient care came first and foremost, he said.

“We’ve had enough of dangerous directives,” he told Times of Malta recently.

“We gave them a deadline and the management knows it. It is high time that management either acknowledges their claim or else goes to court. Either way, they must resolve the issue.”

While the doctors’ union is reserving to take any action it deems necessary, Balzan has given his reassurance that the doctors “will not put patients in harm’s way”.

The head of the nurses’ union, Paul Pace, says the government is dragging its feet and refusing to give phlebotomists what was given to other staff. Like them, phlebotomists needed continuous development and higher education to progress in their careers, he said.

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