Young doctors have stepped in to draw blood from patients while directives for phlebotomists continue “because patient care comes before militantism”, according to their union.

“Doctors are going beyond their call of duty because, for us, patient care comes first and foremost. But now we’re fed up and we expect the management to do something about this problem.

“It cannot go on forever,” Medical Association of Malta president Martin Balzan told Times of Malta.

Phlebotomists are members of the nurses’ union (MUMN) which several weeks ago ordered a series of directives in a dispute with the government over a new sectoral agreement.

Phlebotomists are healthcare workers who draw patients’ blood.

Along with decontamination sterilising technicians, they have been ordered to limit the number of patients they see every day. They have also been ordered to stop any outsourcing work and the tackling of waiting lists.

“Junior doctors have stepped in to do a job which is not theirs because we feel it’s a question of ethics,” Balzan said.

“As a union we do not want to act as strike breakers but we are doing it in the name of patient safety. We are repeatedly being faced with directives that harm patients and this has to stop.

“The onus is now on management to settle the matter. This cannot go on because the young doctors are fed up with the situation,” he added.

However, nurses’ union boss Paul Pace yesterday defended the action saying the government was dragging its feet and refusing to give these workers what was given to others and who, like them, need continuous development and higher education to progress in their careers. 

Pace said that while thousands were spent on outsourcing services, the government refused to pay its workers an extra allowance that would allow them to further their studies.

On the increased workload for young doctors, Pace said: “The directives are for phlebotomists. No one told the doctors to step in to do their work. They are doing it because they want to. We did not stop the urgent blood sampling and those of oncology patients because we care about patients’ health.”

The directives, he said, only affected routine blood checks which the government did not contest in court “as it did with those sterilising hospital equipment”.

A judge last month ordered the nurses’ union to halt industrial action taken by technicians who sterilise the hospital’s surgical equipment, ruling that the union’s directives endangered patients’ health.

Questions sent to the health minister over the matter remained unanswered by the time of writing.

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