A government shadow team is in place to take over the running of three public hospitals if a court terminates the government’s deal with Steward Healthcare.

On Friday, Judge Francesco Depasquale is expected to decide if the deal should be nullified due to Steward’s failure to live up to its contractual obligations.

The decision will mark the end of a five-year battle spearheaded by former opposition leader Adrian Delia.

In the event that a clear decision is handed down, and no appeals are filed, the government will immediately move in to “seamlessly” take over the running of the St Luke’s, Karin Grech and Gozo hospitals.

A shadow management structure has already been assembled as part of preparations that have been in the making since last summer, sources said.

The government plans to retain all employees, including those from Steward, apart from the American company’s management team, according to a senior source privy to the plan.

According to the sources, a team is also analysing how to raise the necessary finance to make good on the original contractual obligation to build a new hospital in Gozo and refurbish St Luke’s.

The expected cost of the new building and the refurbishment works is understood to be north of €200 million.

Soured relations

There are no plans to offer up a new private concession for the running of the hospitals, in the wake of the failed experience with the original concessionaire Vitals Global Healthcare and their successors Steward.

The Barts medical school in Gozo will remain under its own management.

Relations between the government and Steward soured considerably over the past few years, with negotiations to revise the concession having gone nowhere.

An investigation by the auditor general concluded that the concession should never have been awarded to Vitals Global Healthcare, due to “collusion” between Joseph Muscat’s government and the investors behind the project.

Former health minister Konrad Mizzi has come in for particular criticism, with the auditor general saying that he consistently entered into side deals with Vitals without first obtaining cabinet approval. 

The auditor general said the failure to consult the finance minister about a concession conservatively valued at €4 billion is a gross shortcoming in terms of financial management of public funds.

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