Updated 3.20pm, adds PN statement
A St Vincent de Paul nurse suspended over his involvement in the disappearance of resident Carmelo Fino has demanded a fresh inquiry into the case.
In an email seen by Times of Malta , Rhys Paul Xuereb told management of the St Vincent de Paul facility that he saw Fino "sleeping in his bed until 5.30am" on June 28.
A care worker also claimed to have given the elderly man a hot drink at around the same time.
But CCTV would later reveal that the 83-year-old had walked out of the Luqa facility hours earlier, at 3am, through an open gate.
An inquiry found that the four security staff, three carers and the nurse all failed basic practices.
Retired judge Geoffrey Valenzia found that the "negligence" by staff in properly reporting Fino's disappearance meant Fino had more time to "wander far from the facility".
Fino, also known as Karmenu and Charlie, remains missing and police are still waiting the results of a DNA test on a decomposed body later found in Birżebbuġa.
However, in a news conference on Tuesday outside the Luqa facility, Xuereb, flanked by the Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses and 15 other staff, claimed the system had "failed" both him and the missing man.
“I am disappointed that they are trying to frame me for what happened, as usual, they are trying to put all the blame on the nurses, in this case, on me,” he told Times of Malta.
He said the inquiry team did not ask him for his own version of what happened on the night. Xuereb claims he was "under stress and duress" from management at the time of writing his initial statement.
In the email, Xuereb provided his statement to Bernard Piscopo, senior nursing manager, at 7.49pm on the evening that Fino went missing.
Xuereb wrote: “I saw Carmelo sleeping in his bed until 5:30am where I last checked the patients, in the meantime, the other ward staff were changing nappies and providing tea to the ward patients, including Mr Fino. I continued with my work until I gave handover to the day shift in charge.”
MUMN president Paul Pace said Xuereb had no time to seek legal advice before providing his version of events.
Xuereb, who was joined by 15 staff members outside the care home, confirmed he had received a suspension letter from the Public Service Commission.
“I have been suspended, and now on half-pay, and the fact that I’ve been treated differently from others has affected my life and has pushed me back from the work I have been doing here,” Xuereb said.
The union has since ordered staff not to admit additional patients until all wards have at least two nurses during the night shift.
MUMN president Paul Pace said Xuereb is being used as a “scapegoat”, and joined him in his call for another inquiry to be held.
He said Xuereb is a reliever nurse. The 26-year-old had only graduated recently, Pace said, and has been suspended without being accused by the police or the Public Service Commission.
Ward secured with a small gate
He said Valenzia’s report fails to mention that Fino was placed in an open ward, despite having dementia.
“Why have none of the doctors who misdiagnosed him been suspended? Why didn’t the medical team never transfer Fino to a closed ward?” he asked.
“The truth is, if the medical team transferred Fino to a closed ward, we wouldn’t be standing here. Rhys would not be suspended, and Fino would still be with us.”
He said the report tried to put the blame on the nurses and not that there is a system failure at the residency, demonstrated by the fact new security rules have been put in place since the incident.
"Cameras have been installed and security is at its peak- so how can we say that the system was running fine before?"
Pace said the Union will boycott the ministry and will not attend any meetings with minister Jo Etienne Abela.
The union issued more directives to nurses, such as refusing to fill out forms for the release of a resident outside hospital grounds.
He called for no admissions to take place in all wards of the residency until a series of requirements are met.
Ministry denies accusations
In a statement following the news conference, the Ministry for Senior Citizens repeated its concerns that the union's directives will have a negative impact on the elderly and residents.
"While we respect the union and its interest in its members, we could not pretend or ignore the fact that a resident left St Vincent De Paul at night and an investigation was conducted immediately," the statement read.
The ministry denied accusations that Xuereb was "framed-up".
Administration should shoulder part of the blame - PN
In a statement in the afternoon, the Nationalist Party said it was not right for the government to continue to place all the blame for the incident on the staff, without admitting there are shortcomings in the system used at the residence.
Valenzia’s report, it said, clearly showed there were a number of shortcomings in the system so while it could never accept the mistakes which took place on the night Fino went missing, the PN also believed that the administration of the home had to shoulder their responsibilities.
The government had to take action quickly for the elderly at the residence to be protected and treated with dignity, the party said.