A judge has povisionally blocked the nurses’ union from continuing its current industrial action across the entire health service after upholding an application for an injunction filed by the health authorities.
In a decree, Mr Justice Ian Spiteri Bailey upheld the request for a prohibitory injunction filed by the Health Ministry and ordered the union to stop its action with immediate effect until the case is heard on June 27.
The union issued a raft of directives across the entire health sector on Monday in a dispute over staff numbers. The union had also complained that the authorities refused to entertain a request for nurses to be given an uncapped two-thirds pension.
Directives included stopping admitting patients to particular hospital wards and a home for the elderly, taking a two-break each day at operating theatres and limiting the hours in which nurses could dress wounds.
As well as refusing the uncapped pension call, the health authorities also shot down the union’s request for nurses’ and midwives’ overtime to be taxed at 10 per cent, as is done with police officers.
An uncapped two-thirds pension was originally only afforded to members of the judiciary and members of parliament but consultants were also given this perk earlier this year, according to the union.
The Medical Association of Malta and the ministry both denied that consultants enjoy uncapped pensions.
“The MUMN is declaring a dispute with the ministry for health and the ministry for active ageing and community care due to the fact that the health and safety issues on the nurses and midwives are not only being jeopardised but also seriously affecting their personal health.
“Staffing ratios are half those which have been agreed upon, not to mention that nurses are continuously being disciplined due to the shortage,” the council wrote.
What were the directives?
The union ordered that no admissions are to take place in wards MW1, MW2, MW7, FW2, MW8B and the half-way house at Mount Carmel Hospital. No admissions will also not take place in all wards at Karin Grech Rehabilitation Hospital and St Vincent de Paul home for the elderly, including internal transfers, except of those residents transferred back from Mater Dei Hospital after treatment.
At the state hospital, the union ordered nurses working in operating theatres to stop for a break between midday and 2pm.
They were also ordered not to leave the ward to accompany patients unless the ratio is one nurse to five patients.
At the Gozo General Hospital, no admissions are to take place in the St Anna Ward, the long and the short stay wards.
Nurses at health centres were directed to limit drawing blood from a maximum of 50 patients daily. Wound dressing will be restricted to between 10am and 3pm.
What did the court rule?
Health Ministry permanent secretary Joseph Chetcuti told the court that the union’s action was disproportionate and totally excessive. He said the industrial action will “seriously prejudice the provision of the public health service, possibly causing irreparable damage to the patients and users.”
Chetcuti added that the disproportionate nature of the actions envisaged by the union was “seriously endangering the health and the lives of users of the public health service”. He said the action will affect the influenza vaccine rollout.
Mr Justice Spiteri Bailey provisionally upheld the application and ordered that a sitting be held on June 27 to hear the parties’ oral submissions.
Lawyers Alex Sciberras and Paula Cauchi signed the application.