Having three nurses allocated to care for 23 patients in a hospital ward during the night shift is a “luxury” because there are often fewer staff members, according to the nurses’ union chief Paul Pace.

He was reacting to a magistrate’s concerns about the “seriously concerning” lack of resources at Mater Dei Hospital.

Last week, the magisterial inquiry into the death of renowned family doctor Mario Rizzo Naudi flagged the worrying lack of resources.

After hearing court experts testify that there were three nurses to cope with 23 patients at Mater Dei’s medical ward, Magistrate Donatella Frendo Dimech recommended that the attorney general flag this issue with the relevant authorities to ensure there were enough human resources to ensure the necessary “duty of care”. 

Rizzo Naudi died on April 1 after allegedly falling while in hospital at night, where he was recovering following a previous head injury at home a few days earlier. He was 70 years old.

The Rizzo Naudi family believe the circumstances surrounding his death were “full of mysteries” and asked to be given a copy of the inquiry into his death. So far, they were given the conclusions – soon after speaking up in the media – and have now asked to see the full document. The family have been told that this should not be an issue. 

Six nurses per 24 patients – EU recommendations

When asked about the staff shortages flagged by the magistrate, a health ministry spokesperson said: “The magisterial inquiry report has been noted. Mater Dei Hospital aims to maintain nurse-to-patient ratios in medical wards as per international recommendations.”

Statistics about staff-to-patient ratios as well as staff shortages were not received.

Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses president Paul Pace meanwhile said that having three nurses was a “luxury”.

According to EU recommendations, he said, there were to be six nurses per 24 patients during the day and four nurses at night.

At the moment, Mater Dei operated on four nurses during the day and two at night with union directives in place – to ensure patient safety – requesting no ward admissions if staffing fell below those already low numbers, he said.

Over the years, the nurses’ union has repeatedly drawn the attention of the authorities to the shortage of staff that was leading to staff burnout and resignations. Annual resignations in 2019 and 2020 hovered around 50 and doubled in 2021 and 2022.

The hospital often tries to make up for shortages by recruiting foreign nurses. In 2021, there was an exodus of foreign nurses as many who were trained in Malta opted to leave for better opportunities in the UK, Germany and other European countries.

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