Industrial action ordered by the nurses’ union will not endanger patients’ lives and can go ahead, a judge ordered on Monday as he lifted the temporary ban on the directives.

Mr Justice Ian Spiteri Bailey upheld arguments made by the Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses that the directives it ordered for its members did not endanger patient care but were aimed at addressing a prolonged staff shortage that was putting patients at risk and draining its members.

“It does not appear that the industrial actions announced by the MUMN are illegal nor does it appear that the applicant has any right for the injunction,” the judge ruled.

He said while it does not appear that the action ordered will cause any disproportionate prejudice to the patients, the court was nevertheless aware that patients in Maltese state hospitals will be adversely affected by this and every other strike.

He, therefore, stressed with the Health Ministry that it was its responsibility to ensure that the problem causing the industrial dispute is addressed as soon as possible.

The judge had provisionally blocked the industrial action across the entire health service after the union had issued a raft of directives in a dispute over shrinking staff numbers.

What are the directives?

The directives to nurses included taking a two-hour break each day at operating theatres, an order not to leave the ward to accompany patients unless the ratio is one nurse to five patients, and not admitting patients to particular hospital wards and at the government’s home for the elderly.

The directive targeting the nurses’ breaktime was issued because nurses were being ordered to take their break at 7am, before they even started their working day and before consultants turned up at hospital. As a result, the nurses would end up working the rest of their day without taking a break.

On the staff-to-patient ratio, the union said the ratio should be one nurse for every four patients in each of the 65 wards at Mater Dei Hospital. However, the staff shortage had reduced this ratio to one to six, one to eight and sometimes even one to 12. 

The union argues this is affecting “in the most detrimental way” the primary objective of providing quality public health to the community.

Mr Justice Spiteri Bailey noted that it was up to the Health Ministry to find a solution to the staffing problem. While the court said it understood there was a serious shortage of nurses, with the state doing a lot to address the issue, this shortage alone was affecting patient care so it needed to be addressed sooner rather than later.

He also ruled that the union had the right to demand discussions on pensions and preferential tax rates on overtime as these were also part of workers' conditions and had also been offered to other sectors.

Lawyer Chris Cilia appeared for the MUMN which in a statement welcomed the court's decision. It ordered its members not to wear block t-shirts any longer but to wear colourful tops instead. 

It also said that in line with what was ordered by the court, the council will write to the ministry to start discussing staff shortage issues. 

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us