Most of us take our good health for granted and rarely worry about how to deal with illnesses that sooner or later will affect us all. But when things go wrong with our health, we become very vociferous on our right to good, free healthcare.

In the scrutiny of our healthcare system, we often behave in a way that gives credence to the saying that “when ignorance is bliss, it is foolish to be wise”. We know that we have a state-of-the-art hospital – at least when judged on physical appearance. There is no doubt that the Mater Dei building is much more modern than the massive and ugly St Luke’s Hospital. But a sick person expects much more than a nice building when in need of hospital care.

Great expectations for healthcare are often the result of our exposure to what goes on in medical centres of excellence which frequently open their doors to TV stations that produce medical programmes. TV viewers are impressed with programmes like City Hospital or Trauma which deal with the day-to-day management of busy hospitals in the UK and elsewhere.

As is to be expected from TV producers, programmes of this nature project a very warm and reassuring image of what goes on in these centres of excellence: friendly nurses and paramedical staff, expert consultants, modern hi-tech equipment and successful medical interventions on grateful patients. This helps most of us to build great expectations on the kind of healthcare we expect when we need hospital treatment. But the reality that patients face in most hospitals is very different. This applies not just for our own hospitals but also NHS hospitals in the UK and state hospitals in Italy. Long waits at the Emergency Department, lack of free medicine for those who are entitled to it, insufficient number of hospital beds, outbursts of frustration by overworked medical staff, long waiting lists for non-critical surgery and, occasionally, a ysfunctional general management of the hospital system.

Some people’s concerns about our healthcare system go beyond this list. The financing model of our free health system is simply not fit for purpose. This is doubly dangerous when one considers that modern medicine is very capital intensive.

Our hospitals need substantial investment not only in modern medical equipment but also in IT systems and management resources. If we fail to make this investment, ordinary people will feel let down by our public health system.

Our hospitals need substantial investment not only in modern medical equipment but also in IT systems and management resources

The worsening demographics will pile more intensive pressure on a system that is already struggling to cope with current demand. There are indications that we may not be giving sufficient attention to mental health issues and to the ever-growing problem of dementia in our ageing population.

There is no one easy solution to this Pandora’s Box. Many fear that the challenges facing our health system are often discussed purely in a political context. We need to look at our health system more from a social and financial perspective.

The social perspective needs to include the quality of the medical support that we give to patients, the well-being of medical and paramedical staff, the role of trade unions in the re-engineering of the medical processes, as well as the governance of our free health system.

It is sad that after the lid was removed from the boiling pot which is our hospital management system, some of the stakeholders preferred to be defensive by resorting to sabre rattling and trying to pin blame on others.

Unless we take a strategic view of how we can fix our dysfunctional medical system, we risk frustrating the reasonable expectations of most people on what they rightly feel they are entitled to: a healthcare system that supports them effectively when they are most vulnerable.

Time is not on our side. A nation with a healthcare system that is struggling to cope with the normal demand of its clients will suffer economically. What is even worse, we will suffer as more injustices crop up between the haves and the have-nots in our society – those who can afford to get private medical treatment locally or abroad and those who have to make do with what is available in our struggling free health system.

Apart from education, our free health system is the most important critical success factor for our future prosperity. It is only through an alliance of all stakeholders in the medical sector that we can meet the great expectations of our people on healthcare.


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