Some 4,000 nurses across Malta’s health services and homes for the elderly are wearing black T-shirts as a sign of mourning after their union was taken to court over directives to address the severe shortage of staff.

They are wearing black because “Malta is the only European country where a union is taken to court for protesting over staff shortages,” according to Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses’ president Paul Pace.

He told Times of Malta that instead of finding help from the Health Ministry to address the shortage of nurses, it was slapped with a lawsuit for speaking out in favour of nursing rights and in the best interest of patients.

A judge last week provisionally blocked the nurses’ union from continuing industrial action across the entire health service after upholding an application for an injunction filed by the health authorities. 

Mr Justice Ian Spiteri Bailey upheld the request for a prohibitory injunction filed by the health ministry and ordered the union to stop its action until the case is heard on June 27.

The union suspended the action but told nurses to wear black instead of their nursing uniform to mourn their profession and as a sign of protest at the authorities’ inaction.

The union issued a raft of directives across the entire health sector last week in a dispute over staff numbers. The union had also complained that the authorities refused to entertain a request for nurses to be given an uncapped two-thirds pension.

Nurses stopped their industrial action - but are wearing black as a form of protest. Photo: MUMNNurses stopped their industrial action - but are wearing black as a form of protest. Photo: MUMN

Directives included not admitting patients to particular hospital wards and a home for the elderly, taking a two-hour break each day at operating theatres and limiting the hours in which nurses could dress wounds.

As well as refusing the uncapped pension call, the health authorities also shot down the union’s request for nurses’ and midwives’ overtime to be taxed at 10 per cent, as is done with police officers.

Pace yesterday said that nearly 500 nurses had left the profession in the last year, mainly as a result of an exodus of foreign health workers who left Malta after being offered much better conditions in other countries.

He argued that the directives were not aimed at impacting the patients but to spread the message that nurses cannot continue coping with the limited numbers. He said that some wards had one or two nurses dealing with more than 20 patients.

As a result of the shortage, he said nurses were facing internal disciplinary action for minor shortcomings or even criminal action in more serious cases.

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