An average of three nurses quit their jobs at Mater Dei Hospital every week, union chief Paul Pace claims, once again sounding the alarm on a staffing crisis that has hit the health system.

Many are resigning to work in the UK, where foreign nurses and their families are being promised citizenship, free accommodation and better pay to plug its own staffing crisis.

But the head of the Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses (MUMN) said burnout, stress and the lack of new recruits is exacerbating the problem.

“We’re talking about three resignations a week... and that is just at Mater Dei,” Pace said.

“The work has become tiring and overwhelming and, apart from poaching by countries offering better conditions, we also have people nearing retirement who have simply had enough.”

According to EU data from 2019, there were fewer than 4,000 nurses working in Malta, although this number is now believed to have dropped further.

Around 15% of nurses working here are third-country nationals, mostly from India and Pakistan.

According to Pace, only some 100 nurses graduated last year, with more than 20 moving on to further study, meaning they did not join the work force.

The health authorities say there were 130 graduands.

“These numbers simply do not cover the shortages,” he said.

“To make matters worse, we are not even retaining young people who have spent years studying. Why would they stay here if in other countries new recruits are paid more than those who have been in the job here for over 30 years,” he said.

The situation, he added, continued to deteriorate as the pandemic persists.

He dismissed claims that more people were drawn to the profession during the virus outbreak, insisting COVID-19 had the opposite effect and fewer people are now interested in working in the sector.

The health ministry acknowledged that nurses are leaving the profession.

“The nurses who are resigning are in their majority foreigners, Indians mostly, and this because the UK and Ireland are offering immediate citizenship to nursing staff and their immediate families,” the ministry said.

It will be issuing a call for non-EU nurses as well as taking on the local nurse graduates.

“The health department is opting for full-time engagement via the PSMC [Public Service Management Code] route rather than contracts for service via private contractors wherever possible,” it added.

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