Doctors have expressed their disappointment as former prime minister Joseph Muscat has reportedly started lobbying the government he formed part of just a few weeks ago to give more funds to Steward Health Care.
Malta Today and The Malta Independent on Sunday reported yesterday how Dr Muscat turned up to lobby his successor Robert Abela and Health Minister Chris Fearne to re-negotiate the lucrative hospitals' contract taken over by Steward Health Care from Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH).
Speaking to the Times of Malta, Medical Association of Malta (MAM) president Martin Balzan said he was surprised Steward had again asked for more taxpayer money, after years of receiving millions of euros with no evident infrastructural investment for patient care.
“MAM is disappointed that a former prime minister is lobbying for more funds for Steward. He should be lobbying for more money for patient medicines and the new outpatients block at Mater Dei Hospital, both underfunded in the last budget,” Dr Balzan said.
A spokeswoman for Health Minister Chris Fearne referred Times of Malta’s questions about Joseph Muscat’s conflict of interest to the Prime Minister’s Office.
A spokesperson for the Office of the Prime Minister told Times of Malta that Dr Muscat “was not negotiating on behalf of a private company, and no negotiations were held during the meeting”.
Muscat not negotiating on behalf of a private company
The spokesperson said that Mr Fearne and Dr Muscat introduced a Steward Healthcare representative to Dr Abela “during this brief introductory meeting” where a member of the public administration was also present.
“While the police can investigate any matter in an autonomous manner, the National Audit Office is already conducting an investigation of the hospitals’ agreements,” the spokesperson added.
The controversial concession to run the Gozo, Karin Grech and St Luke’s hospitals was originally given to VGH in 2015, despite the company having no track record in medical care.
VGH was owned through a web of offshore companies, effectively obscuring who was really behind the company.
It sold the concession to Steward and pulled out of Malta in 2017 without ever filing accounts, having received tens of millions in taxpayer money with little to show for it.
In his comments to Times of Malta, Dr Balzan insisted the “haemorrhaging” of taxpayer money to Steward must be terminated.
He said the long-awaited report by the National Audit Office on the original Vitals deal should be concluded before the government considers any further decisions.
Dr Muscat vehemently defended the original VGH deal when he was prime minister as well as Steward’s taking over of the concession.
Rule of law NGO Repubblika has accused Finance Minister Edward Scicluna and former ministers Konrad Mizzi and Chris Cardona of being complicit in a criminal conspiracy to drain the public coffers by virtue of the original VGH deal.
A magisterial inquiry based on the Repubblika complaint is under way.
PD: If Steward can't deliver, it should exit Malta hospitals deal
In a statement, the Democratic Party said the request from Steward amounts to a bailout request.
"The government has only one option but to reject this request. If Steward cannot deliver world class healthcare on budget and on time, then it should hand over its concession back to the government," the party said.