It is undeniable that caring for seriously- or terminally-ill patients could be a traumatic experience both for themselves and for their families. Adding to this stressful experience by leaving such patients to fend for themselves to find reasonable temporary accommodation as close to the hospital as possible is an avoidable hardship.

The recently-set up National Patients’ Organisation had made an appeal to the Minister of Finance to look at this serious issue that is mainly affecting Gozitan patients and their families. With cancer cases becoming more prevalent as people age, the need to support Gozitan patients receiving chemotherapy treatment in Malta is a matter of urgency.

Those behind this initiative - a person living with fibromyalgia and two individuals with chronic pain - insist their organisation aims at advocacy with patients not for them. They point out that seriously- and terminally-ill Gozo patients and their families suffer great physical, moral and financial hardship, usually for a long time, when they have to travel to Malta to attend health appointments or receive treatment, something that might occur quite frequently.

Not every Gozitan patient is lucky to have a relative or friend living in Malta and who is ready to offer accommodation to ease the logistic and psychological pressures associated with receiving treatment at Mater Dei or other hospitals. If the national health service remains free and once the economy is doing well, it is undoubtedly the right time for the government to look at such deficiencies in public healthcare and provide solutions.

It is common practice in many countries for public hospitals to provide decent accommodation for patients’ relatives at a reasonable cost. Similarly, some hospitals have NGOs that encourage public-spirited families to house temporarily patients and relatives who need long-term treatment in a nearby hospital.

A purpose-built hostel as near as possible to Mater Dei can help to ease the temporary logistic problems of Gozitan and, perhaps, even some Maltese patients and their families. Hopefully, the new organisation will also encourage Maltese families to provide accommodation for patients who have to travel from Gozo for their treatment.

Some may argue that once such support is provided to Gozitan patients, the same type of assistance should be extended to Gozitan students studying at the University. Deciding to delay dealing with the matter fearing that the need to help Gozitan patients might be the thin end of the wedge for financial support could, at best, be an insensitive attitude.

Every government that believes in social equity should set priorities because all social programmes come at a cost for taxpayers. However, at present, the government is in a position of strength to put into practice some of the social democratic values that both major political parties profess.

At times, we seem to be inundated with purely partisan bickering that sap the energy of those who continually try to focus on the real issues that are affecting ordinary people. The recently-set up organisation and other non-government philanthropic bodies are acting as the voice of conscience of society when they draw the attention of the government not to brush aside genuine elements of everyday hardships that many in the community often suffer in silence.

The 2019 Budget can be a good platform to address some of these hardship issues.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial


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