Vitalis Global Healthcare owned by a Singaporean investment firm has been chosen as the preferred bidder to redevelop the St Luke’s and Gozo hospitals.
The company is expected to make a €200 million investment and will develop and run the two hospitals on a 30-year concession, providing a mix of private beds and others contracted to the government.
Health Minister Konrad Mizzi told The Sunday Times of Malta yesterday the bidder fulfilled the requirements set out by the government and talks to finalise the contract will start shortly. “We expect the contract to be signed before the end of the year after detailed negotiations on standards, conditions and costs are concluded,” he said.
Vitalis was one of three bidders to have submitted a proposal when the government issued a request for proposals in March.
Dr Mizzi said the investment would create 650 direct and indirect new jobs across the medical sector. Giving a breakdown of the Vitalis offer, he said the bidder would build a state-of-the-art acute general hospital in Gozo with 150 private beds and 125 contracted to the State health service.
The Gozo hospital will have an additional 175 long-term beds for use by the public health service for rehabilitation, geriatric and psychiatric services.
Vitalis will also build the medical school and campus to be used by Barts Medical School, a faculty of the Queen Mary University of London.
Dr Mizzi said St Luke’s Hospital would have 220 private beds and specialise in orthopaedics, cardiovascular diseases and prosthetics.
It will also include an 80-bed rehabilitation centre for use by the public health service. Karin Grech Hospital, which is currently being used as a rehabilitation centre, will be transformed into a 320-bed geriatric public hospital.
Dr Mizzi said the government would buy the agreed bed space at a fixed cost, bar adjustments for inflation.
But he insisted the cost per bed would be “significantly lower” than the cost of a bed at Mater Dei Hospital, adding the figures would be published when the deal is finalised.
“Maltese patients and those entitled to free healthcare will not pay for using the public beds at St Luke’s, Karin Grech and Gozo hospitals,” he said.
Dr Mizzi said Vitalis was owned by Bluestones Investments from Singapore, a fund managed by the Oxley Group.
Asked about the expertise of fund managers in running and operating hospitals, Dr Mizzi said the group would include the Medical Association of North Virginia to provide management support.
Last March, blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia claimed that the Oxley Group was the chosen investor, as officials had been seen attending meetings in Malta. However, Dr Mizzi denied this was a done deal at the time.
He acknowledged that Oxley, based in southeast Asia, had visited Malta through Malta Enterprise, a government agency, to see the Gozo hospital as part of a drive to attract medical investment to the sister island.
Dr Mizzi said Bluestone Investments had given government a presentation last year on their plans for a Gozo-only proposal.
“But this was not what the country needed and the request for proposals released in March was far different from what either Oxley or Bluestone had originally come here for,” Dr Mizzi said.
The private investment will only succeed if the company manages to attract medical tourism but the minister expressed confidence in the business plan included in the Vitalis bid.
Vitalis has strong links with insurance companies and will target patients from the US, Canada, North Africa and the Middle East.
“Doing nothing would have left our healthcare system in a piti-ful state where we would constantly try to patch up things to the detriment of patient dignity,” Dr Mizzi said.
Dr Mizzi said talks with the unions would start immediately but insisted all employees would remain on government books.
“I anticipate difficult discussions but this is a situation where we will have to employ more people and the project will offer workers additional opportunities.”