JEFFER: A diagnosis of the problems with public health this Saturday

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With next Saturday’s seminar, ‘Public Health: Diagnosing the Problems’ just three days away, here is a run-down of just a few of the issues that will be discussed during the workshop and debate organised by JEF Malta.

This debate will see guest speakers Dr. Anthony Buttigieg (leader of Partit Demokratiku), Dr. Stefano Moncada (Lecturer & Researcher in Development Economics and European Studies), Dr. Alexander Clayman (Junior Doctor, and co-founder of Patients not Profits), Dr. Sascha Reiff (Vice-President of the Malta Association of Public Health Medicine), and Ms. Sarah Suleiman (Malta Medical Students Association).

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The speakers will engage with the audience to discuss issues including the privatisation of our health care systems, medical tourism, euthanasia, mental health, obesity and ageing population, and the treatment of medical professionals, amongst others. The aim of this debate is to bring experts and youths closer together, in an attempt to look towards solutions that would fit our vision as European youths.

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The leasing off of St. Luke’s Hospital, the Old Gozo Hospital, and Karin Grech Hospital to Vitals Global Healthcare, a private company which is new to the market, has received its fair share of criticism, especially with regards to the fact that the contracts signed between the Maltese government and VGH have not been made available to the general public. Although the rationale behind this decision has, seemingly, been that of alleviating some of the financial stress that our public healthcare system has been subject to, many have argued that privatisation is not the solution.

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Although, inarguably, the current tax-supported arrangement is facing unprecedented problems due to population growth, an ageing population, as well as the increase in migrants who require professional medical attention, some say that the privatisation of hospitals risks profit-making becoming the primary goal of the system, as opposed to ensuring that patients receive the best possible treatment. As has been stated in an article published by The Times of Malta, “Malta’s health service has always been first class and provided care for all. We now risk exposing this model to commercial interests where only the privileged will be eligible for first-class treatment.” This is also coupled with the risk that the government may ultimately also end up forking out even more money in order to compensate for any treatment needing to be outsourced.

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With regards to the pressures that the current health care system is facing, the issue of obesity is also one that needs to be addressed. In 2017, 26.6% of the Maltese adult population was deemed to be obese. In fact, in a study conducted in 2016, Malta was the EU member state with the highest obesity rate. The Today Public Policy Institute published a report on this in 2015, which stated that “when it comes to healthy lifestyles and physical exercise, Malta is one of the fattest, laziest and most car-dependent nations on the planet. That we are consistently at the bottom in every league speaks volumes on the incompetence of our governmental health administration in matters of preventive medicine and encouraging healthy lifestyles”. The economic pressure that this places on the healthcare system is also worth considering, with the current obesity rates in Malta costing the government a staggering €97million per capita. This thus raises the question of what is actively being done to combat this issue, as well the ways in which this is negatively impacting the sustainability of our healthcare system.

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Yet another aspect linked to the viability of medical treatment in Malta is the concept of Medical Tourism. This has been defined as a form of tourism that involves patients travelling to other countries, seeking medical treatment or assistance. It includes within its remit the consumption of services association with tourism, including transportation, accommodation, as well as hospitality. In recent years, the European medical tourism industry has grown exponentially, especially following the 2014 European Directive on Cross-Border Healthcare, aimed at providing free access to treatment in EU member states for all citizens of the Union. Medical tourism has been seen by some as a way of diversifying the economy of the country at hand. In the case of Malta it could also help with the chronic bed shortage problem, while also encouraging the sharing of good medical practices. According to The World Medical Tourism and Global Healthcare Congress, Maltese is currently ranked as the 26th best in the world, and 7th in Europe for medical tourism.

So the prognosis on our healthcare system is worrying and the cure might be far off. It is up to our generation to be part of the solution, and JEF Malta is here to help you do it! So don’t forget to join us next Saturday as we come together to diagnose the issues and put the public health system back on its feet.

Written by

Nicola Mangion

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JEFFER: A diagnosis of the problems with public health this Saturday

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