I am very lucky that I’ve never had any serious illnesses or accidents during my time in Malta, but I have had a bit of experience of both the public doctors and free hospital (Mater Dei) including over night stays, as well as the private doctors and private hospital over night stays at St James hospital in Malta and thought a quick, concise comparison of the two types of healthcare might help people who are deciding which to rely on.
Free Heathcare in Malta
First thing to note: if you live and work in Malta then chances are you are eligible for the free healthcare service. There might be slightly different rules for non EU nationals but I’m fairly sure if you pay tax, you get healthcare.
There are GP services (policlinics) where you can visit a GP (without appointment) and get some small services such as blood tests, plus a large and very recently expanded and updated free hospital called Mater Dei.
Private Healthcare Plans in Malta
Private healthcare plans in Malta are very cheap (compared to the UK anyway) with a full coverage plan for me (late 20s female, in good health) costing only around €300 per year. There are safe guards in place of course such as ‘reasonable price’ clauses whereby the insurance will pay up to X amount for certain services and if the hospital charges more, you have to pay the difference but they generally work this out before going ahead with treatment.
Private Doctor Costs in Malta
If you don’t have private healthcare but want to visit a private doctor (they are usually a lot less busy so with less queuing time) then you can visit St James and most pharmacies and pay between €10-€20 for a general GP visit. St James has a 24 hour GP service available which is amazing if you want to make sure you hit a quiet period or don’t want to take time off work.
Public Hospital Stay vs Private Hospital Stay
At the end of last year I became a little unwell and started losing weight at a quite alarming speed. Given that I was small to begin with, this posed quite a few extra problems such as dizziness and fainting, severe dehydration (to the point of mild hallucinations) and blood pressure so low sometimes I could hardly stand. My stomach started rejecting basically everything that touched it, including water and I ended up in A&E of Mater Dei feeling wholly sorry for myself.
Staying Over Night at Mater Dei Hospital
I had been to St James GP service 3 times already and each time told ‘if you’re still unwell in a week, come back’. Frustrated at getting no help, I called out a nearby pharmacy doctor who advised I go straight to A&E. Annoyed at St James, I headed to Mater Dei. As my only real issue was ‘I can’t eat’ I wasn’t a priority and A&E was overrun so I was waiting for absolutely hours. At one point my paper even got lost so they forgot about me until I went up to the desk to beg to see someone.
Eventually, after speaking to lots of different people, having my blood pressure taken, lots of blood taken, ECG tests and so on, they decided to keep me in overnight on a drip to get some liquid and nutrients inside me and do more tests. At this time I was extremely shy and suffering a lot of anxiety so the idea of an overnight stay had me in full blown panic attacks, shaking and crying a little. I think they took pity on me in my frail state and I ended up, almost 8 hours after first arriving, being given a private room. The room was clearly very new and had never actually been used as a patient room as it was filled like a stock room (but with a bed) and nurses kept coming to use the bathroom and almost dying of fright when seeing me in the bed.
The staff were all clearly over worked and very stressed. I was not a tough patient at all but I was a little confused as to what was happening as no one really told me what was going on and when they did talk to me, especially the specialists, were really quite short with me. I was left alone for very long periods with no idea whether I was meant to be staying, whether I could move around, whether I could call for assistance or shower (very hard to shower when connected to a 7 foot drip pole!).
- Very happy to get a private room, although I think that was an extra special circumstance and not something that would happen often
- Chaotic: it’s hard to get well when there are people bleeding and dying on beds in the corridors
- Staff seem overworked and not always with the best bedside manner (I totally understand it, but it’s worth pointing out)
- They performed very extensive tests and were reluctant to let me go home until they found the cause, they were very thorough and determined to make me better.
Staying Over Night at St James Hospital
When my company (who pays my private healthcare) heard I was in Mater Dei they worked over time to arrange to get me transferred to St James. Whilst Mater Dei were doing a perfectly fine job, if you can go private, why not? It’s also closer to home for me so made getting new clothes and so on a lot easier with less taxi rides back and forth for my friends. However, when I got to St James, I told them I was feeling a little better (after 24 hours on a drip, after weeks of no food or drink, no wonder) so they sent me straight home. One hour later my boyfriend (at the time) rushed me back as I was in a terrible state again. But this time, they really took me seriously. They hooked me up to a new kind of drip first to battle the crippling nausea and once that was finished (took about an hour) they hooked me up to a stronger (or more potent?) drip to hydrate me. They warned me it’d probably keep me awake and give me more energy (it was very late at night and I was dog tired) but that they needed to get more inside me faster so it was the only option.
They put me in a private room, which actually had a really lovely view across Sliema and I watched a stunning few sunsets the next few nights. The rooms are a little dated but comfortable as a hospital room can be. I had my own private bathroom, a few comfortable chairs for guests and quite a bit of space to move around in.
The staff here were exemplary. I understand it’s a whole different world and they are better paid and have much fewer patients per doctor/nurse which means of course they are generally in a better mood and have a lot more time for you. They came within seconds of me buzzing any time I needed help, let visitors stay for as long as I wanted and checked on me whenever they could. They encouraged me to walk up and down the halls so as not to get bored or start to ache and when they saw I was a bit shy and reluctant they made me laugh and offered to walk with me if I wanted.
- It took a very long time to be taken seriously
- The specialist assigned to me was a respiratory specialist and my issues were digestive
- Lovely room
- Lovely facilities
- Amazing food (not that I could eat any of it)
- Staff were incredibly warm, kind and kept me company
Personally, despite the fact they sent me home a number of times when I really needed some help, I would totally recommend forking out for private healthcare. If my company didn’t pay the plan, then I’d absolutely pay this myself. If you don’t have private health insurance then paying by the day to stay in the private hospital is absolutely not worth it as it’s incredibly expensive so my advice is to get a quote and signup for a private plan before the need comes.
St James has a lot of facilities in house, so if you need tests and what not you can perform them here and results are generally faster. They are much less over worked and much better staffed so waiting times are less and by going to St James, you’re doing a good thing for the public healthcare and easing the burden on them, making it better for those who can’t afford private insurance.