The nurses and midwives union will hold industrial action on July 5 following a breakdown of negotiations on a new sectoral agreement.

Among other directives, nurses at Mater Dei Hospital will not participate in the washing of patients except for those that cannot be bed bathed by the support staff. They have also been instructed not to distribute food or participate in any audit or perform any job shadowing.

Nurses will also not transfer patients going for elective operations to any theatres, endoscopy rooms or suites, except mothers scheduled for a caesarean section.

Read: MUMN issues wide-ranging directives after government talks break down

Speaking outside the Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre, MUMN general secretary Colin Galea said the union will ignore any prohibitory injunction the government might file, insisting that directives will kick off on Thursday at 7am.

The government had said it was expected to meet the nurses’ union in the coming days ahead. 

Mr Galea noted that the union had already warned of industrial action in October, following a seven-month delay in negotiations.

The government had ignored the MUMN's counterproposals about early retirement, kept allowances low and included inadequate salary proposals for some grades.

Malta 'short' of 550 nurses

The government is not being sensitive to the situation, especially considering the shortage of nurses, Mr Galea said, pointing out that health sector in Malta is short of 550 nurses.

This was a 15-year-old estimate, as the government had not accepted to make public its more recent patient-to-nurse ratio data, and had refused to carry out any such studies with the union, he added.

A study carried out in collaboration with St Vincent de Paule hospital management highlighted a shortage of 132 nurses. There were instances where a nurse had to single-handedly monitor a ward hosting 40 patients at night. 

Steward Healthcare was currently carrying out such studies in collaboration with the MUMN for the Gozo General Hospital and Karin Grech hospital.

The lack of nurses meant that at Mount Carmel Hospital, for example, there were not enough nurses to keep constant watch, resulting in patients running away from the hospital.

The shortage had also resulted in postponed or cancelled operations, while at the ITU, one nurse was assigned to two or three patients. According to international ratios, there should be one nurse with each patient, Mr Galea said.

The directives apply to both nurses and midwives on their normal duty, as well as those working overtime. They will affect staff at MDH, ITU, St Vincent De Paule Residence, Mount Carmel Hospital, Karin Grech Rehabilitation Hospital, the Gozo General Hospital, SAMOC, health centres, the National Immunisation Services, the Well Baby Clinic, the Commcare Unit, Elderly Homes and the Sir Paul Boffa Hospital.

The union did not want to expose more shortages as it did not want to alarm the public, however, the government had to address the issue with facts, not words, Mr Galea said.