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EDITORIAL | Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Hands off Mater Dei

Keeping politicians and politics out of unnecessary controversy is always healthy.
With Mater Dei hospital having been the focal point of 15 years of political controversy and intrigue, there is little doubt that sooner or later a silly, unnecessary comment would be bandied about with little or no logic to support it.
It finally landed in the form of a sweeping statement by Dr Michael Farrugia, the Labour Party’s spokesman on health.
The Naxxar-based GP questioned whether the cardiology intervention performed at Mater Dei with much pomp and spectacle was carried out according to procedure.
On the receiving end was Prof. Albert Fenech: a highly respected cardiologist who was – rightly – very unwilling to take such a flippant accusation with the proverbial pinch of salt.
To highlight the Labour party’s faux pas, it was inevitable that the PBS-based troubleshooter would host a so-called discussion programme on the subject.
To make matters even more complicated, or better still more colourful, both programme and host were boycotted by the Labour party spokesperson because according to him, the programme is not politically objective.
When it comes to amplifying political errors, the PN and its media-friendly machine have a very clear advantage. Nonetheless one cannot understand how the MLP succeeded in repeatedly shooting itself in the foot with such an unguarded statement.
It is true that Mater Dei has been used by the present administration to pump adrenaline into its political campaign - particularly last June, when the “opening” of an empty hospital was hyped up into a veritable circus of political hypocrisy – but the last thing one should want is a tussle between the two main parties specifically over the quality and seriousness of the medical care at the new state hospital.
Both political parties should lay their hands off our health system and allow the medical staff to get on with their job, which is already difficult enough as it is.
Health and health care is not the theatre for political spin doctors. But the farcical, if not downright sad habit of issuing daily bulletins of how the migration is taking place at Mater Dei confirms to what extent the hospital has been usurped by the political class.
Ultimately, however, the real victims of this ongoing political travesty are the patients themselves. The two parties evidently tend to forget this reality, but beyond the spectacle of clean and modern wards and state of the art medical equipment and services, there are many, many personal tragedies. The people who have been yearning for a better medical service – one that will really improve their quality of life, and in some cases possibly even avert untimely death – are quite frankly not interested in getting involved in this sort of political bickering.
That Mater Dei is to open soon is welcomed by all of us. But that it is to finally operate 15 years after its original inception remains an indelible mark on the failings of government which should have pushed Skanska harder to deliver on time.
Having said that the really important thing now is to simply get on with the job at hand.
Beyond the colourful billboards, boring press statements and angry counter declarations, silly photo opportunities and banal bulletins, this small island State is expecting a public healthcare service geared to address present day health issues that concern thousands of Maltese citizens. The questions they are asking concern the availability of medical staff, the price of medicines, and above all the continued sustainability of the entire “free health for all” system. They are not particularly interested in endless controversies, but rather, and more importantly, in seeing a better medical service: one that is distinguishable at a glance to the one experienced for years at St Luke’s Hospital. Anything beyond that is entirely irrelevant.
Politicians should be told in very emphatic terms: Hands off Mater Dei.

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