Policy responses for Malta - HSRM


Policy responses for Malta

2.2 Workforce

There has been an element of redeployment and re-training of medical staff across the board. Public Health Specialists who used to occupy various positions within regulatory bodies, policy, and ministries have been fully repurposed and redeployed to assist in the response to this pandemic. Doctors, nurses and allied health care practitioners have been trained in the use of PPEs. In addition, there has been an element of retraining for some of the professionals particularly those with experience working in A&E and critical care settings in order to prepare them for a potential influx of patients. Besides medical public health staff, administrative and public service staff who could contribute were asked to assist in the response under the direction of the Superintendence of Public Health and the public health team. Measures to increase the availability of workers include the provision of child-care to health care workers and alternative housing for those professionals who would like to isolate from their families while working on the frontline. Medical students and other volunteers have been trained to assist by working on helplines, while final year students are on-standby to work on the front line as the situation progresses, with them considered as having graduated a few months early. Mental health support has been organised for public health staff and also for medical staff working on the frontline by means of psychiatrists and psychologists providing this service. There has also been an element of redeployment of scientists from within the laboratories to be able to cater for the increased testing capacity.

A public call has been issued for doctors, dentists, nurses and allied health professionals who would like to contribute to COVID-19 related work. This means that doctors and other health care professionals in the private sector currently without an income or with reduced income are being offered temporary employment in the public sector.

A helpline has been set up for people with mental health issues or those requiring emotional support. In-house psychologists are providing outreach in various front-line workplaces, giving short interactive sessions on basic self-care skills and resilience.  Mindfulness sessions are being offered to hospital workers. Several mental health NGOs and institutions are actively marketing their services.

An employee support programme continues to offer free confidential support to public service employees including healthcare workers (https://deputyprimeminister.gov.mt/en/department-of-health-services/nursing-services/Pages/employee-support-services.aspx).

The Medical Council has also issued guidelines for the profession, encouraging safe practice, the use of telephone and virtual consultation and safe online prescribing, and self-care (https://deputyprimeminister.gov.mt/en/regcounc/medicalcouncil/Documents/Guidance%20During%20the%20COVID-19%20Situation.pdf).

Healthcare workers have been given practical support in various forms. The main hospital (Mater Dei Hospital) is providing accommodation for healthcare workers who had to leave their normal place of residence to reduce the risk of transmission to their relatives. The Medical Association of Malta has provided financial support mainly to junior doctors who are renting their own accommodation during the COVID-19 pandemic. A testing hub was also set up specifically at the main hospital for the fast tracking of covid-19 swab tests for healthcare workers. https://www.gov.mt/en/Government/DOI/Press%20Releases/Documents/ISSUE72_ENG.pdf

Vulnerable healthcare workers who are required to stay at home on Preventive Quarantine under the Protection of Vulnerable Persons Order (LN 111 of 2020) still receive their basic pay and class /grade allowances. Exemptions for vulnerable healthcare workers wishing to continue working are also considered by the Superintendent of Public Health. http://www.justiceservices.gov.mt/DownloadDocument.aspx?app=lp&itemid=30044&l=1). Additionally, public officers who are precluded by the Superintendent of Public Health from attending to their duties are to be allowed special quarantine leave on full pay during the period of such absence.

Measures within the Public Service also applicable to health care workers ensure continuity of parental care of children at home due to schools closure through facilitation of complimentary shift work, support of telework by the parent/guardian staying at home to look after children, or financial support in terms of paid leave where this is not possible (COVID Bulletin, Issue 07, 18 March 2020 - https://www.gov.mt/en/Government/DOI/Press%20Releases/Documents/ISSUE07_ENG_18032020.pdf). Free child-care has been provided for children of healthcare workers (https://timesofmalta.com/articles/view/childcare-for-healthcare-workers-to-keep-services-running-at-full.778133).