Waiting times in Mater Dei Hospital’s emergency room has reached an average of eight to 10 hours, with Health Minister Jo Etienne Abela set to announce expansion plans for the building this month.

Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses president Paul Pace told Times of Malta at a media event that patients at the emergency room are having to wait up to 10 hours until they can be fully processed by medical staff.

“In emergency, we have what is called the waiting time – which is the time you spend waiting until a doctor can see you, and processing time – which is the time you spend in the emergency room until you are either sent home or admitted to a ward,” Pace explained.

“As the situation  is today, we are seeing that waiting time is taking from eight to 10 hours on average, and obviously when processing takes long, it’s going to affect the waiting time as well.”

The health minister, who also attended the media event, told Times of Malta that the government is working on a multi-phase action plan to tackle space and time issues at Mater Dei, with the primary focus being doubling the number of cubicles in the emergency room from 35 to 70.

The plans, the minister said, are set to be announced this month.

Other phases of the expansion plans will include moving administration workers out of the Mater Dei building and transferring the outpatients to St Luke’s Hospital, expanding the ITU and expanding the cardiology department, with plans to add a third operating theatre there, he said.

Mater Dei was built to meet the needs of the population at the time and today we know that the reality is different

“It’s not enough to just create more space at the emergency because we also have to think downstream, that is where patients are going to end up after they’ve been processed by emergency,” Abela said.

“There are prime areas of the hospital which could be used to offer care to patients that are currently used for administration, for example. These areas need to be vacated.”

An expression of interest to find suitable office space for administrative staff had already been issued, the minister said.

“They cannot remain on site,” Abela said.

“Everyone can agree that Mater Dei was built to meet the needs of the population at the time and today we know that the reality is different. Space is limited and it must be used to cure patients.”

However, Pace added that while investing in infrastructure is a good step forward and a move that the union supports, it is critical that investment in human resources is kept at the same pace.

The emergency department is understaffed as it stands, Pace said, and would need to be increased further to make use of double the space.

“The number of cubicles will double from 35 to 70 but, at the moment, we’re not even using all of them because we don’t have enough nurses,” he said.

“Today emergency is working with some 40 nurses less than needed, and with the new cubicles the minister has mentioned, we will need another 85 nurses.”

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