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Why Maltese And Foreign Nurses Are Quitting In Droves And How This Trend Can Be Reversed 

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One of the most crucial professions to keep the country running is facing a major crisis.

Despite nurses being widely celebrated as heroes during the COVID-19 pandemic, the head of Malta’s nursing union has warned that around 400 people quit the public service this year alone.

Paul Pace told Lovin Malta that while most of these are third-country nationals who have found better paying opportunities elsewhere, Maltese nurses, particularly young ones, are also moving overseas.

While everyone’s situation is different, Pace highlighted a number of key reasons why nurses are opting to leave.

First of all, Malta’s nursing salaries are extremely uncompetitive.  

New nurses start off on Scale 10 of the civil service, equivalent to just under €20,000 a year (or €1,632 a month) which can increase with allowances.

MUMN president Paul Pace

MUMN president Paul Pace

This, Pace warned, is just under half the salary new nurses earn in the United Kingdom (around £38,000).

Indeed, the salary gap is so wide that new nurses in the UK can earn more than nurses with 35 years experience in Malta.

To make matters worse, nurses in Malta work more hours a week (46), compared to their counterparts in the UK (37).

Naturally, staff shortages mean the remaining nurses have to pick up the slack for their missing colleagues.

“As per our collective agreement, there should be six nurses allocated to every ward at Mater Dei, but staff shortages mean there are only around four,” Pace said. “If nurses get sick or go on holiday, that number goes down to two to three, sometimes even one.”

Nurses are also being piled with administrative work, necessary tasks to keep the hospital running, but which Pace warned is making their workload too intense.

“We have to take care of the wards, order tablets, chase people around, make sure doctors are supplied with masks, chase people to do their jobs, take computers to get fixed, deal with patients’ relatives… the upkeep is tiring.”

It was exacerbated by the pandemic, as people in other allied professions and support services started working form home, a luxury nurses couldn’t afford.   

This state of play, Pace warned, is leading to burnout among staff.

“After a 12-hour shift, you’d go home and just collapse on the sofa, too exhausted to even look at your phone. Everyone has a bad day, but two or three nurses doing the job of six nurses has become the norm, so it’s gone from stress to burnout.”

The departing nurses aren’t being adequately replaced by newly-graduated ones; Pace said that only 122 new nurses graduated this year, out of whom 22 moved on to study medicine. 

That’s a shortfall of 300 nurses, jobs which are likely to be taken up by third-country nationals, many of whom are likely to depart overseas anyways.

For Pace, the solution is simple – Malta’s nurse salaries need to drastically increase to the point that they can be considered competitive with those offered by the UK. 

And with a new sectoral agreement for nurses set to come into force next year, he said this will be the union’s stance heading into negotiations with the government.

“We want to revamp the whole system to make it sustainable,” he said. “The health system depends on its workforce and nurses are present in every department and service.”

“Nursing has become an international workforce and we need to compete against other countries, not against other professions in Malta. It’s a foreign fight and other countries have already started it; we’re late in the game.”

Should Malta increase nurses’ salaries?

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Tim is interested in the rapid evolution of human society brought about by technological advances. He’s passionate about justice, human rights and cutting-edge political debates. You can follow him on Twitter at @timdiacono or reach out to him at [email protected]

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