The recent resignation of one of Malta’s foremost Health consultants has created quite a stir. Instead of trying to find a solution to use Dr. Stephen Brincat’s expertise and experience in the field of oncology, the Gonzi government immediately accepted his resignation and said that this resignation provided an ‘opportunity’ for changes within the Oncology department. Among the reasons cited for the acceptance of his resignation, the Department said that there were several issues in which Dr. Brincat’s view differed from that of the relevant Health Department. This is typical of the Gonzi government’s arrogance and provides a clear case of political interference since the Government’s duty is to set policy and not to override the advice of qualified consultants, especially in such a delicate field.
The political implications are many. The Minister for Health, Joe Cassar has first denied the accusations made by Dr. Brincat, but subsequently ordered an inquiry. If GonziPN felt justified in issuing a statement denying the points made by Dr. Stephen Brincat, will this inquiry have specific terms of reference to substantiate the Ministry’s statement or will the Minister admit to jumping the gun in his reaction to the resignation.
Dr. Stephen Brincat resigned on several grounds. He has said that the government simply ignored his advice and instead, wasted hundreds of thousands of taxpayer’s money. Dr. Brincat felt that, as such, his position was no longer tenable.
Plans to merge the oncology and haematology departments were not practicable. Prof. Brincat said haematology refers to the study of disorders associated with blood and the majority of these illnesses has nothing to do with cancer. He also said that a common clinical administration for these two departments would be time consuming and would restrict the time with patients considerably.
Serious disorganisation at Boffa Cancer Hospital, against the advice of established consultants, was another issue on which Dr. Brincat felt aggrieved. Seven years ago, Prof. Brincat assented to a move to Mater Dei but the authorities had, without any planning, decided otherwise. Three years later the original move to Mater Dei Hospital was authorised, at a hefty cost and having wasted three years in developing services to cancer patients. Prof. Brincat said that when he had expressed concern regarding the service to cancer patients, he was told to ‘shut up’ as a political decision had been taken.
Recently, the authorities decided on the provision of chemotherapy in Gozo. Prof. Brincat, felt that the staff were not well trained and experienced in providing a full service. In fact, he proposed a plan that would have provided a limited service but this, to a high standard. Such a plan would require four to six months for proper implementation. Nevertheless, the government decided to go ahead with a hurried plan and wanted its implementation within one month. Dr. Stephen Brincat knew that this was almost impossible and that the decision to do this in such a short time was a political one and not one in the interest of decent Health services. Prof. Brincat based his recommendations, against the introduction of services without the necessary proficiency, on the fact that, in Gozo, some patients had died from chemotherapy toxicity, because it was not administered with the necessary expertise.
Prof. Brincat’s service to the country in the oncology field is exceptional. He was the one who had set up the Malta Cancer Foundation, which has provided practically all the chemotherapy-related equipment at Boffa Hospital through donations. He was also responsible, through the Foundation, of acquiring the first blood analyser set up in Gozo.
Prime Minister Gonzi had little to say on this subject. Last Sunday, he only made a passing reference to the issue but he gave a lot of importance to a shortage of chocolate and toothpaste some 40 years ago. Gonzi’s speech did not include any reference to the financial fiasco his government is responsible for. He delves on the past without any interest in the present predicament of the people.
The Gonzi government has a responsibility which it cannot shun. The Government should not allow these things to happen, especially in the Heath sector. It is useless calling for inquiries after the event. Prevention is better than cure and GonziPN should take whatever action is necessary to shoulder responsibility and accountability, in instances where the interests of the Maltese are put aside for partisan purposes.