A total of 178 beds at St Vincent de Paul Residence currently lie empty as a result of industrial action by the nurses’ union, resulting in hundreds of elderly patients being ‘stuck’ in hospitals despite no longer requiring medical treatment.

Nurses have not admitted any patients to the home since August, when the Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses (MUMN) issued directives in the wake of a report into the case of a missing patient.

Data supplied by the Minister for the Elderly, Jo Etienne Abela, in parliament showed that there are 42 wards across the facility with empty beds, with only three of the care home's wards being full. The minister was replying to a parliamentary question by Nationalist MP Paula Mifsud Bonnici.

In two of the bigger wards – RB5 and Serenity 2 – 11 of the 40 available beds are empty.

What is the issue?

In an inquiry carried out following the disappearance of Carmelo Fino from the home, retired judge Geoffrey Valenzia pinned the responsibility for the man’s disappearance on staff members on duty that night. The nurses’ union described the findings as misleading, contested the report and ordered its members to follow union directives. 

MUMN told its  St Vincent de Paul members not to admit additional patients until all wards at the care home have at least two nurses during the night shift.

The impact of those directives is now being acutely felt. 

Hospital sources told Times of Malta that elderly patients who require long-term care but no longer need hospital treatment are spending months on end at Mater Dei or Karin Grech hospitals, rather than being transferred to St Vincent de Paul. 

The union is not ready to lift the admissions measure unless the nurse suspended over the Fino case is allowed back.- MUMN head Paul Pace

This means patients who do require hospital treatment risk being turned away because of lack of space. Health Minister Chris Fearne confirmed recently that the union action has resulted in hospital beds being taken up by elderly patients because they could not return home.

The issue was flagged by commissioner for older persons Godfrey La Ferla this past week. In a statement, La Ferla urged the government and MUMN to iron out their differences, warning that senior citizens were the ones paying the price for the dispute. 

Questions sent to the ministry for the elderly remained unanswered despite reminders. Instead, a spokesperson said the government has “a series of proposals that are open for discussion and is awaiting the MUMN to engage in a fruitful manner”.

Attempts to mediate

Times of Malta is also informed senior government officials have now attempted to intervene and mediate in order to resolve the issue.

When contacted, MUMN head Paul Pace said that, irrespective of the union’s actions, the shortage of nurses at the residence meant that it had become impossible to cope with large wards that take 40 residents.

“Beyond the action, the fact of the matter is there are not enough nurses for the number of beds available. The authorities need to increase the number of nurses if they want all beds filled,” he said.

The union head also dismissed claims the hospitals are full because of the action, saying a lack of beds has always been a problem at Mater Dei.

Pace said the union is not ready to lift the admissions measure unless the nurse suspended over the Fino case is allowed back.

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