There have been several reports of medical certificates being given out over the phone, according to the Malta Employers Association, which called for “ethical behaviour” by the medical profession.
“Sick leave is an entitlement to be taken by those who are genuinely unfit for work and employers have never disputed this fact. But there needs to be the corresponding ethical behaviour by the medical profession to make sure it is being handled properly,” MEA Director-General Joseph Farrugia told Lovin Malta.
He was asked for his reaction to a front-page article in Times of Malta this morning which reported a €50 million cost to government from paid sick leave in 2015, the highest in 10 years. He was also asked for his reaction to the case of Nationalist MP and family doctor Stephen Spiteri who is at the centre of a dodgy medical certificates scandal.
Listen to the recording which implicates Stephen Spiteri
“Of course there should be an investigation, even for the doctor’s sake. It worries employers that certificates are being given in this manner, irrespective of who is doing it,” said Mr Farrugia, preferring not to comment further on the case of Dr Spiteri until an investigation was concluded.
The Medical Council had said it was investigating the case but Dr Spiteri denied he was under investigation and the Medical Council has so far refused to set the record straight. Meanwhile, Opposition leader Adrian Delia told TVM that as far as he was aware the Medical Council was not investigating the case and when he looked into things himself, he found “nothing of concern”.
Malta Employers Association Director-General Joseph Farrugia
Speaking in general about sick leave abuse, Mr Farrugia said: “I understand the dilemma many doctors face. It’s not always a question of black and white. You do have grey areas when it comes to whether a person is unfit or not to go to work. That is understandable. But they must abide with ethical standards. When they are certain of abuse, they should not certify. I’m afraid I don’t think that’s the case at the moment. Medical certificates are too easily available.”
Mr Farrugia said employers were not empowered to dispute medical certificates signed by doctors.
The most worrying aspect for Mr Farrugia was the high incidence of sick leave taken in the public sector compared to the private sector.
“The disparity is a clear indication that there is abuse. One cannot dispute this and we now need to see how and whether it should be tackled,” he said, adding that there could be a number of reasons for higher incidence of sick leave in the public sector, including poor motivation and higher levels of stress.
He said the rise in paid sick leave was also a result of an expansion in the workforce that came about through economic growth.
The private sector, he said, was better at managing sick leave abuse through the use of informal back-to-work interviews and monitoring motivation levels at work, as well as being conscious of patterns.
“Normally offenders are repeat offenders, not just a one-time incident,” he said.