Friday, 3 April 2009

MaltaStar: Patient Rights
02 April 2009 13:37 by Andrew Sciberras

I must be honest, patient rights are quite a novelty for me. In fact I am greatly fortunate that I’ve never been a patient in Mater Dei and never had any relatives or friends who went there. As a result I know only the façade of this state of the art complex and touch wood that is all I would come to know for a very long time.

What are patient rights? A recent Euro Health Consumer Index report sheds some light on this inquiry. The said report lists certain specific rights such as the right to a second medical opinion, the right to review your own medical records, a tangible healthcare law based on patient rights, right of direct access to specialists and fault malpractice insurance. Apparently Malta fairs well in the first one, i.e. the right to a second medical opinion, but boasts a shameful showing in the rest. It is time to shape up. It should not be the European Union that has to put such things in perspective. If we are truly a society that cares about its own members, such rights should have been realised decades ago.

But we mustn’t stop there. The list of patient rights can be expanded further. Let me start with the obvious: the most fundamental right of all should be the right to free healthcare. What a tragedy it would be to forfeit our health, our parents’ health, our children’s health to a power-hungry insurance lobby which puts the interests of its coffers before anything else. Second in importance should be the right to efficient and quality healthcare. What consolation would it be for that pensioner to be told that her health service is free but she must wait 4 years for her operation? What peace of mind would that daughter have in visiting her dying father in dim-lit corridors because they have no other place where to put him? The latter are heartbreaking realities which have much to tell about a society that is neglecting its most vulnerable, and for what?

Another set of rights which comes to mind is unfortunately controversial. I firmly believe that cohabiting couples, be they straight or gay, should be placed on an equal footing with married couples. The discrimination is both senseless and heartless and it must stop. What do I mean by ‘equal footing’? What discrimination? Well, for instance, the cohabiting partner is denied the right to take a medical decision when his/her other partner is unable to do so. They are denied visiting rights of their partners in hospital. They are denied urgent family leave in case of a serious accident and they are denied bereavement leave when their partner sadly passes away. I may have strayed a little out of point here but this is a subject which really pains me. I cannot understand how man has it within him to decide what type of relationship merits justice whilst ultimately forgetting that it boils down to one true bond which human beings of all kinds share: love.

As Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero once said, “a decent society is one which does not humiliate its members.” But I am humiliated when I see such blatant neglect when it comes to the rights of the patient. I am humiliated by our concept of ‘state of the art’ medical facilities. I am humiliated when I see such differentiation and denial of justice between different sets of people. Yet we can change all this. We can make society decent again and pave the way to becoming the best in the European Union. We can start with the most vulnerable and the minorities by restoring in them the rights and dignity they deserve.

This is what I want for Malta.

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