A Labour government will give patients the right to be treated at private hospitals if they are made to wait longer than a stipulated maximum period for their operations, according to leader Joseph Muscat.

The Government will foot the bill in such cases and maximum waiting times would be listed in a charter of patient’s rights, which Dr Muscat said could be drawn up within a year.

Speaking outside Mater Dei Hospital, he also called to establish a medicine home delivery service for those over 70, the immobile and the severely disabled.

Free medicines would be delivered to patients’ doors by qualified professionals, such as retired nurses, Dr Muscat suggested, at a cost of €500,000 in the first year.

Labour’s health proposals would also see an additional €8 million a year spent on primary healthcare.

The money would go towards modernising existing centres and extending their range of services, as well as opening new centres in areas such as Żurrieq.

Gozo General Hospital would get a €1 million-a-year budget increase, with Dr Muscat saying it needed more autonomy and greater focus on its “huge” investment potential.

Dr Muscat said Labour, together with all relevant stakeholders, would assess hospital departments for inefficiencies, and suggested revamping a number of health-related procedures, from the hospital appointment booking to the systems used in procuring medicines for free distribution.

A specialised patient helpline would give people a way of easily and quickly receiving updates on their medical treatment and hospital appointments. The call centre would cost €200,000 to set up, Dr Muscat said.

Proposals involving expenditure increases would be included in an eventual Labour November Budget for 2014, he added.

He said none of the party’s proposals precluded private sector involvement, although he categorically denied suggestions that Labour had deals lined up with any particular individual or operator.

Would Labour scrap a draft contract between the Government and St Philip’s Hospital owner Frank Portelli?

“I cannot scrap something I haven’t yet seen,” Dr Muscat replied, adding that Labour would ensure a level playing for all operators seeking government business.

‘Don’t link blood transfusions to prejudices’

Blood transfusions should be based solely on empirical data and never linked to preconceptions or prejudices, Labour leader Joseph Muscat said yesterday as he discussed the right of gay people to give blood.

Dr Muscat made the comment at the end of a visit he paid to Guardamangia’s blood transfusion centre, where he asked the centre’s director Alex Aquilina about the logic behind banning blood donations from homosexuals.

Dr Aquilina said people were screened according to their sexual behaviour rather than orientation and said studies had shown gay men were more likely to be unfaithful to their partner than other groups.

When asked whether a gay man having protected sex was a higher risk than a heterosexual man doing so, Dr Aquilina said: “We must assess risk as a group, not individually. And studies show that blood from homosexual men is 50 times’ riskier than that of heterosexuals.”

Lifetime bans on gay men donating blood prevail in many countries, although others such as the UK, Australia, Sweden and Japan allow gay men to donate blood, provided they have not had sex in the past year. Poland and Venezuela have no ban in place.

The PL leader’s visit took a slightly comical turn when he was met at the door by Health Minister Joe Cassar.

Ministry officials explained it was protocol for a minister to accompany the Leader of the Opposition on tours of official premises.

Both men smiled for the cameras as they toured the centre, and both agreed it would be a bad idea to introduce some form of financial incentive to donate blood or organs.

And although the two politicians do not see eye to eye on several issues, the commemorative mug they each received at the end of the visit means they now have at least one thing in common.

Issue is trespassing, not tourism

Dr Muscat gave short shrift to a call made by hunters to stop tourists from roaming the countryside at their leisure yesterday. “Nationality has nothing to do with it – the issue concerns trespassing on private property,” Dr Muscat said. If people were walking on public land, it made no difference whether they were Maltese or not, he added.

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