Health Minister Chris Fearne admitted in parliament there were negotiations in the hospitals' deal that were done behind his back... but not anymore.

In a reply to a parliamentary question by PN MP Adrian Delia on Wednesday, Fearne said the government has launched legal action against Steward through the International Chamber of Commerce to claim compensation for the services that the healthcare giant promised but failed to provide.

And in those proceedings, Fearne said, nothing was being done without his knowledge.

"There were things during this saga that were done behind my back but let me assure you that, this time, nothing is now being done behind my back," he told parliament.

"I am being very careful to make sure the country's interest comes first and foremost."

Fearne had already spoken about his frustration when he had testified under oath in the hospitals' case in 2021.

He had said Steward Global Healthcare had been running parallel talks with Konrad Mizzi and Joseph Muscat’s office while also negotiating with the Health Ministry.

Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) was originally supposed to invest over €200 million in the Gozo, St Luke’s and Karin Grech hospitals. However,the company had pulled out of the deal in December 2017.

The 30-year concession for the running of the three hospitals was then taken over by Steward.

Back then, Fearne had heralded the change as "the real deal".

On Monday, an appeals court declared the hospitals' deal officially null and void, confirming a landmark judgment earlier in the year which had concluded the deal appeared to be fraudulent.

Delia, along with the PN, is pushing the government to recoup '€400 million' it insists was forked out and lost to the deal over the years.

On Wednesday, he asked Fearne to specify how much of the €75 million the government gave to Steward annually went to pay salaries and how much was designated for other expenses.

Fearne said he could not specify the amount as long as the arbitration process was still ongoing. He would like to give that information, he said, but the rules precluded him from doing so.

He said, however, the PN was not being fair in giving the impression that all the money given to Steward was lost, as if it vanished.

A chunk of that money was used to pay salaries, he told Delia.

The same amount of money the government used to pay Steward annually will be paid by the government to run the hospitals itself, he added.

The government is not after Steward for that money, but it is seeking damages over the promises that the healthcare giant made and did not keep, he said.

"Apart from providing the healthcare services, Steward had to fulfill two other contractual obligations - to bring medical tourism to Malta and to use the revenue from that medical tourism to rebuild the hospitals," he said.

"They did not deliver on those two promises and we are seeking compensation for that."

Fearne also acknowledged that Delia was instrumental - through his court case - in driving Steward out of the country.

"It's important to acknowledge this because sometimes we get caught up in heated debates and put the party's interest before the country's," he said. 

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