A police investigation to be ordered by the government into reports of structural weaknesses at Mater Dei Hospital’s accident and emergency department has the backing of the Nationalist Party.

Conclude this early so the facts can be established

“We urge the government to conclude this investigation at the earliest so the facts can be established,” a PN spokesman said yesterday. He added that technical people who had been responsible for the construction would be expected to be questioned as part of this probe.

The Sunday Times of Malta reported yesterday that tests have shown that concrete structures at the emergency department were so weak in certain areas they could not sustain the weight of two planned medical wards.

Completed by Swedish construction company Skanska in 2007 at a cost of some €600 million, the new hospital at Tal-Qroqq was deemed too small to cater for the country’s needs as from day one. Work on the project had started in 1993.

Faced by the ever-increasing overcrowding problem, the present administration opted to build two new wards, on top of the emergency department, to accommodate an additional 68 beds.

Sources told this newspaper that this particular building was one of the earliest structures completed in the 1990s, when the plan was to build a 450-bed hospital specialising in acute medical services.

While Italian company Ortesa was chosen to come up with the design, Skanska was entrusted with the construction works, under the supervision of the Foundation of Medical Services.

Subsequently, during the short-lived Labour government headed by Alfred Sant, plans were modified so that the hospital would double in size.

The decision was also taken to stop using the services of Ortesa and Norman & Dawbarn were chosen to come up with the modified design that included two additional storeys. However, after the PN was returned to power in 1998, it was decided that Skanska would be responsible for both design and construction.

The sources pointed out that, by law, a construction company was liable for any structural defects for up to 15 years and, therefore, one could argue that this period had expired.

The former CEO of FMS, architect Martin Attard Montalto, said he had been appointed to the post in 2008 when the project was terminated. Before that, he was planning manager, from 2005 to 2007, and projects manager, between 1993 and 2000.

No evidence of possible structural weaknesses had transpired when the foundation was overseeing the project

“What I can tell you is that no evidence of possible structural weaknesses had transpired when the foundation was overseeing the project,” he said.

A Skanska spokesman said yesterday they had not been contacted by the Maltese government and so could not comment.

In a statement, the Health Ministry said a forensic audit on the existing structure would be carried out and the police were asked to investigate.

In addition, a site survey would be carried out to establish what measures needed to be taken at the emergency department.

The government would insist that political and technical responsibility would be shouldered by those involved in the matter, the ministry said.

Former finance minister Tonio Fenech who, in 2005, had been tasked to oversee the completion of the hospital, said he was not completely surprised.

“The structures were never designed to carry such loads and Skanska had refused to build beyond two additional floors for safety reasons,” he said.

He said it was for that reason that the helipad was not built on the hospital’s roof but on a site near the entrance.

His views contrasted with those of Joseph Cassar who was health minister between 2010 and 2013.

Dr Cassar said he was surprised by the results of tests on the hospital structures saying the project to build additional wards on top of the emergency department was been rolled out by when he was responsible for the sector.

MUMN seeking assurances

The Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses will be meeting Health Minister Konrad Mizzi tomorrow to discuss the safety of staff at Mater Dei.

Union president Paul Pace said he was shocked by what he read, remarking that this was one of the few buildings on the island designed to resist earthquakes.

“The ministry informed us that once they would have all test results in hand they would take a final decision. We were told that, for now, the emergency department would not be relocated because the indications were that there was no imminent risk,” he added.

Nevertheless, Mr Pace said the union had asked for all ongoing works to be halted. He said nurses working in other parts of the hospital had also expressed concern.