Senior nursing staff say the shortage of staff in hospital is far worse than the authorities claim, as COVID continues to hamstring medical care.
“There is no other word to describe the situation in hospital. It is a disaster,” said one senior nurse at Mater Dei Hospital, who wanted to stay anonymous.
During night shifts, many wards are left with just two nurses to cater for a total of 24 patients, the nurse said.
Day shifts are not much better, with understaffing being a reality in most wards.
The eruption of new ‘wards’ around the hospital, such as the conversion of the staff canteen, the library as well as the major incident ward, mean that the pool of nurses available at Mater Dei now has to stretch to cover the added beds in these wards, the nurse added.
On Tuesday, the nurses’ union called on the authorities to reduce the number of elective surgeries taking place because of the increasing pressure on medical staff. It called the situation at the main state hospital “desperate”.
The high number of nurses, doctors and other medical staff who are currently COVID-19 positive or in quarantine, they say, is making the day-to-day running of the hospital very difficult.
The authorities, however, were quick to deny these claims. They said the number of COVID patients in ITU, four, was one of the lowest rates in the EU and fewer than 40% of virus patients in hospital displayed symptoms.
Questions sent to the health authorities to verify the number of healthcare staff currently unable to report for work remained unanswered.
Times of Malta’s veteran nurse source meanwhile explained that the hospital was turned into a COVID-19 treatment facility almost two years ago and it has since not reverted to its normal function.
She claimed that COVID-19 protocols are making their job far more difficult and time-consuming than ever before.
Treating a COVID-19 patient requires two nurses most of the time – one nurse assists the patient directly and has to wear personal protective equipment while another waits outside the room to assist and pass on any necessary medical tools or medication.
A young nurse who started her career just before the onset of the pandemic said the situation in hospital is taking its toll on many of the newer nurses too.
The nurse shortage has been an issue for a number of years and, according to nurses, the pandemic added to previously existing issues, resulting in an exodus of staff.
The difficulties encountered by nurses has meant that a few newly graduated nurses are opting out of working in the sector and moving on to totally different areas of work.
A spokesperson for the Health Ministry said there were more than 140 patients being treated in wards at Mater Dei that were positive to COVID-19 and four were receiving intensive care treatment.
The spokesperson did not provide information regarding infected patients receiving treatment in other hospitals on the island.