The nurses union has expressed "shock" over the summoning of a Mount Carmel Hospital nurse to court over charges of unprofessional conduct in 2017, claiming the nurse had actually saved a patient's life.

A spokesperson for the Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses claimed the nurse is being charged with criminal misconduct after a patient who should be under constant watch hurt himself when no nurse or carer was available.

The police will be prosecuting Joseph Pace in his managerial capacity, the union said. It said the case ignores the fact that the government is responsible for any staff shortages.

"The irony is that Pace actually saved the patient's life - this is the reward he received," the spokesperson said.

This is the second such case in as many years, the MUMN spokesperson noted, after a nurse and an aide were found criminally responsible for the death of a frail patient who choked on chicken when left without supervision.

Nurse David Sant and nursing aide Carol Bonnici had had their punishment reduced on appeal.

'Extreme shortages'

In a statement issued on Monday morning, the MUMN said that patients suffering serious psychiatric issues who require one-to-one nursing attention are being left unattended because of an "extreme shortage of nurses".

According to the union, more than 70 Mater Dei patients and a further 65 Mount Carmel patients require one-to-one nursing care at any one point in time.

Despite written agreements between MUMN and hospital management that all constant watches require additional nurses or carers, such requests are often turned down, the union added.

"To add insult to injury, nurses and midwives on all levels are being taken to court by police inspectors if something happens to the patient irrespective of whether there are any nurses available.

"Nurses and midwives are paying the highest price since police inspectors are too afraid to accuse the health ministry or the office of the permanent secretary for such shortcomings."

Following a similar case in 2019, the union had urged the government to defend the nurses since they were not responsible for staff shortages, the union said.

"The same nurse being accused of criminal misconduct is the nurse which saved the patient's life," the union said.

The issue of staff shortage has persisted, MUMN said, claiming constant watches were "a time bomb waiting to explode with severe consequences for the nurses and the patients".

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