Doctors sitting on the board that approved applications for severe disability benefits supported by forged documents complain to Times of Malta today that they “were cheated too”. They could not have known the signatures were forged, they said.

They speak to the Times on condition of anonymity although there aren’t hundreds of people who could have sat on a board that decided on these things. People in the know, know.

Let’s examine their claim. What else could have they done to prevent the fraud from happening or stop it at some point?

A point made by a commenter over the last few days was statistical. Should somebody have noticed a spike in severe disabilities and in applications for pensions associated with them? Was no one able to wonder if suddenly, we had an epidemic of severe epilepsy?

More importantly, perhaps, did the board never think to verify the applications made, perhaps even randomly? Isn’t that what a verification board should be doing? Did the doctors ever wonder why they were hired to do the job of reviewing and accepting the applications? If it was just to rubber stamp the judgement of the doctors who signed the application, why wasn’t the job given to an ordinary clerk? Why were doctors necessary to decide whether the application signed by other doctors should be accepted or not?

Clearly, a medical judgement was expected. They were expected to examine whether the recommendation signed by the other doctor was justified. No clerk could do that. Only they could.

Perhaps, on one occasion, when they were faced by an application that seemed implausible, they could have grabbed the phone and rang the doctor whose signature was on the application, just to double check. They needed to do it just once and the scheme would have been exposed. The doctor whose signature was forged would have just told the doctor sitting on the board: ‘Hey, this guy’s not my patient. Hey, that may look like my signature, but it isn’t mine.’

It needed to happen just once.

You see, this entire scam was possible because whoever organised this fraud knew the review board would never check the authenticity of the documentation supporting the application. There can be many reasons for this and since I don’t know what those reasons are for a fact, whatever I suggest they may have been is no more than speculation. It’s not necessarily because the doctors on the review board were on the take. It could be just because it is professional taboo for a doctor to question a recommendation signed by another doctor.

That false professional religion would then be exploited by someone or some ones who were familiar with it. ‘They’re doctors,’ the fraudsters would have thought. ‘They wouldn’t check.’

Whatever the reason is, the perpetrator of this fraud knew that the doctors paid out of tax money to make sure the process is not abused would simply do nothing to make sure the process is not abused. They would rubber stamp the applications without examining them, collect their fee, and move on. After all they are not the ones that would be swindled. The victims of the swindle are taxpayers who are also victims of the doctors on the review board who charged us all a salary (or the part of it that paid them to sit on this board) to do bugger all.

The review board doctors wouldn’t have been the most obvious targets of commentary on this atrocious scandal. The benefit fraudsters, the politicians who enabled them, the bureaucrats who paid out the money without realising they were over-spending, the ministers, of health and social policy, who slept while this went on under their noises, the prime minister who covered it up: all these are more immediate candidates for criticism.

But their mad attempt at public relations, speaking to the reporters covering this story to pity themselves apparently to fend off any consequence for their grotesque inaction, places the review board doctors in the centre of attention.

The doctors on the review board had one job. It was a medical job. Only doctors are qualified to question whether an application supported by other doctors is eligible. We hired them as our doctors, and they had the duty to take care of our interests because we are all too incompetent to question their skill and their knowledge. Theirs is a serious professional failure.

Perhaps the Medical Council, given its unwillingness to investigate Silvio Grixti despite several witnesses saying he handed to them the forged documents they used to acquire benefits unlawfully, might consider investigating the doctors on the review board that accepted those forged documents as a good basis on the back of which they dished out state pensions.

As if.