Staff working at the hospitals run by Steward Health Care are “relieved” at the news that the company will be pulling out of Malta as this brings hope that the government will finally invest money where it is needed to the benefit of patients.

Employees have also had enough of being “caught in the middle” of the repercussions of disagreements between the US company and the government.

“I was glad to hear Steward are leaving,” said a nurse at the Gozo General Hospital.

“Now, hopefully, the money will be invested for the benefit of the patient. It was demoralising to see things deteriorating and nothing being done – services not being possible – because of the lack of investment. Our fear is that things may get worse before they get better. Where will the government get the money for the much-needed investment,” the nurse, who did not want to be named for fear of repercussions, asked.

An employee who works at Karin Grech Rehabilitation Hospital agreed, saying that, over the years, staff felt “demoralised” by the lack of investment in the hospital and this translated into a lesser service for patients.

“We are professionals who care about our patients. When we don’t have the tools to work and when we go to work in a run-down environment it impacts us because the patient deserves better,” the employee said.

The Gozo Hospital nurse added: “We just want to feel like we know who we are employed by. For years, we were told we were employees of Steward Health Care. But our pay cheque was issued by the government and we have government email addresses. It gets confusing.”

Steward Health Care said yesterday it had given notice of termination of its concession agreement while lashing out at the government for not keeping promises and obligations.

The US company had taken over the concession for the management and operation of St Luke’s, Karin Grech and Gozo General hospitals and the Barts Medical School from Vitals Global Healthcare in 2018.

Profit and acute healthcare did not work together- Martin Balzan, head of the Medical Association of Malta

The government said the health authorities were in a position to immediately run the hospitals, guaranteeing the high level of treatment patients expected and also guaranteeing jobs – some 2,000 staff members are on Steward’s books.

The civil court last week annulled the concession agreement after finding fraud. Steward appealed the decision on Wednesday.

Reacting to the news that Steward wants out, Paul Pace, chief of the Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses, said that “our members are relieved”.

“They want to go back to the government because they have had enough of being caught in the bickering between the government and Steward. When it comes to health, private-public-partnerships (PPPs) just don’t work, for this reason,” Pace said.

He gave the example of industrial action at Karin Grech some years ago over the ratio of carers. Then Steward and the health division disagreed over who would pay for additional carers to tackle understaffing. Meanwhile, the employees at the hospital were overworked.

Martin Balzan, head of the Medical Association of Malta that represents doctors, agreed that this was good news. While doctors were not as impacted, since they fell under the chief medical officer and not Steward, getting rid of “the third party” was good news.

While private companies bring in the capital, the reality is that even the most genuine of PPPs had to make profit. Profit and acute healthcare did not work together, he said.

“The biggest issue with this deal – that impacted staff and most importantly patients – was that resources went into a black hole and, for the past eight years,  there was no money to invest in infrastructure leading to a situation today when six wards, that is about 300 patients, are in makeshift wards without bathrooms and other basic facilities,” he said.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us