The doctors’ union has given the government an ultimatum to settle the industrial dispute it has with phlebotomists, after young doctors stepped in to do their job.

Phlebotomists are healthcare workers who draw patients’ blood. Several weeks ago, their union, the Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses, issued directives to them in its dispute over a new sectoral agreement.

The phlebotomists were ordered to limit the number of patients they see every day and also to stop outsourcing work or tackle waiting lists.

Doctors have stepped in to draw blood from patients in urgent cases.

But the president of the Medical Association of Malta, Martin Balzan, told Times of Malta that it is the responsibility of hospital management to ensure that patients are not placed in harm’s way.

He said doctors were going beyond their call of duty because, for them, patient care comes first and foremost.

“We’ve had enough of dangerous directives. 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,” he said.

He refused to spell out the ultimatum and was reluctant to say what the doctors’ union would do if the issue is not settled by the deadline it has given.

It is high time that management acknowledges their claim or else goes to court

“We reserve the right to take all action we deem necessary. What I can assure you is that we will not put patients in harm’s way,” he said.

Nurses’ union boss Paul Pace said the government was dragging its feet and refusing to give phlebotomists what had been given to others and who, like them, needed continuous development and higher education to progress in their careers.

Pace said that, while thousands of euros were spent on out-sourcing services, the government refused to pay its workers an extra allowance that would allow them to further their studies.

Sources said that not all phlebotomists are following their union’s directives but the few who are still working are not coping with the workload.

The same sources said the doctors were only drawing blood from those patients whose cases are urgent – regular blood tests are being postponed. But each doctor has about 100 such cases every day, over and above their normal workload.

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