Updated 5.20pm with Health Ministry comments

Health Minister Chris Fearne has urged phlebotomists to resume bloodletting duties at Mater Dei Hospital after months of union-ordered directives, saying the dispute has been solved. 

But when contacted by Times of Malta, Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses (MUMN) head Paul Pace denied this was the case, saying the government and the union had not had a meeting on the issue in months. 

Pace's claims contrast those by Fearne, who told Times of Malta earlier on Friday that he hoped the union would drop the directives as an agreement has been reached.

"Despite coming to an agreement recently, the MUMN has yet to stop the action. I always say that unions have a right to take action but this should not harm patients. Now that there are no pending issues, the action should stop as there is no need for this anymore," Fearne said. 

Phlebotomists are obeying directives issued by the MUMN in a dispute over a sectoral agreement. The previous agreement lapsed in January 2021 and directives were ordered later that year. 

Directives cause problems at Mater Dei

Phlebotomists, the healthcare professionals who draw patients' blood, have been ordered to limit the number of patients they see every day and to stop outsourcing work or tackling waiting lists.

According to sources, this has led to chaos in the outpatients' department, with many patients turning up daily only to be turned away and told that they would have to come back another time. 

The issue has also been a headache for doctors awaiting their patients' results, with many often warning their patients they might have to reschedule appointments because they have yet to have their blood drawn for further tests. 

Pace: I forget when we last met 

Despite Fearne's comments, Pace has continued to stand by his claims that the government refuses to pay its workers an extra allowance and has also yet to set up courses aimed at helping the phlebotomists further their studies.

Such courses are needed for the phlebotomists to advance in their careers and in turn, have their salaries increase. 

"Fearne's comments are a lie. I've forgotten when we last had a meeting with the government on phlebotomists although we are set to meet again on Monday," Pace said. 

When Times of Malta pointed out that the months-long action is negatively impacting patients, Pace said the government was using patients' suffering to put pressure on the union. 

"They come with a 'take it or leave it' approach and do not do anything to try and resolve the issue. The government is happier outsourcing services than paying its own people," Pace said. 

Ministry: we met last week and sent you a letter

But the union chief's claims were quickly rebutted by the Health Ministry, which noted that the last meeting between the two sides was held just last week. 

Apart from Pace, Fearne and representatives from the Office of the Prime Minister were also physically present for that meeting. After that meeting, the MUMN chief had received an official letter "with an updated agreement reflecting the discussions carried out during that same meeting," the ministry said. 

"The ministry has been in constant communication with MUMN about the phlebotomists' agreement on a continuous basis via phone calls and email correspondence," a ministry spokesperson said.

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