Malta ranks 13th, below the average of 20 European countries in the calculation of patients’ rights by the Active Citizenship Network.

The report shows however that Malta beats Germany and also Cyprus, which is at the bottom of the list.

In no country is the implementation of 14 rights, proclaimed by the European Charter, complete. The best case is about 20 per cent off the ideal situation.

It also transpires that the same three rights – respect for patients’ time, free choice and access to care – are the most critical, having the worst scores in most countries.

At the top of the classification are the rights to personalised treatment, prevention, privacy and physical access, which seem to be characteristic of European healthcare systems. The right to consent, compensation and complaint appear to be “partially respected”.

Malta featured in this assessment on the EU Charter of Patients’ Rights thanks to the Malta Health Network, set up in 2007, composed of 25 related NGOs and a member of the European Patients’ Forum.

Its aim is to represent the interests of patients and the health of the community in Malta and abroad, said its chairman Anthony Guillaumier, pointing out that the country “is only halfway there”.

Speaking ahead of European Patients’ Rights Day today, Mr Guillaumier said the network aimed to raise awareness of the charter, which was not a law but a benchmark of the standards the country should achieve. The network, he said, intended to empower patients to learn about the charter and do something about it.

Inspired by the fact that “everyone moves aside for an ambulance, knowing it could one day be them”, Mr Guillaumier believes this vast lobby group should have a unifying voice.

“Everyone is a patient, or likely to be at some point,” he said, adding that “in essence, the charter states that everyone has a right to the best and quickest access to medical treatment”.

The problem was that not everyone knew this. They did not know they had a right to compensation, for example, did not understand their situation, or were afraid.

However, he added, patients’ rights also came with responsibility and people could not go around making unfounded claims and reach the farcical state in the US, where everyone demanded compensation.

In general, patients in Malta respected doctors but doctors did not always have good bedside manners, or “looked them in the eye”, Mr Guillaumier said, insisting that “the cure is not just the medicine”.

The right that is most lacking locally in his view is “respect of patients’ time”, he said, referring to the hospital waiting lists.

“We are lucky to have a good service that is free in Malta but we want to raise the standards.”

The network aspired to develop into a strong organisation that would be recognised and could act as the voice of the Maltese patient to lobby the government and be the link overseas.

The government, he said, was conscious of the improvement of standards and had no alternatives anyway, being in the EU.

In fact, a Commissioner for Health is being appointed within the Office of the Ombudsman, the Health Ministry has confirmed, saying the government and the Opposition were in the process of agreeing on a suitable person to take on the role.

The idea of the Health Commissioner was to secure patients’ rights, the ministry said.

The Malta Health Network is organising a forum at St Vincent De Paule residence for the elderly today. The new directive on the rights of patients to cross-border healthcare to ensure the safe and high-quality access to health services in the EU is also on the agenda.

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