The government has not updated its concession agreement with Steward Healthcare, Health Minister Chris Fearne said, as financial estimates issued with the budget speech show a spike in the funds allocated for the running of two hospitals.

According to the budget estimates for 2022, Steward Healthcare will be getting €69 million to run the Gozo and Karin Grech hospitals next year. That represents a €20 million increase for budget allocations for the two hospitals this year - a 40 per cent increase in a single year. 

Asked about this on Tuesday, Fearne said the government is investing in the people of Gozo and that was why more funds were allocated. He denied there had been any changes to the concession agreement.

“There have been no new arrangements to the concession. The increase is a result of more investment in the health sector,” he said.

Former opposition leader Adrian Delia is contesting the concession agreement in court, claiming it should be annulled since conditions were not met. 

Vitals Global Healthcare was granted a €2bn concession to run both hospitals and St Luke's Hospital in 2015, despite having no experience in medicine.

Eventually the private company backed out, and sold the concession to Steward.

In January this year, Fearne and Caruana gave a lengthy presentation to their cabinet colleagues on plans to redraft the agreement, according to government sources. 

Steward Healthcare runs Gozo General Hospital. Photo: Matthew MirabelliSteward Healthcare runs Gozo General Hospital. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli

The budget for next year was tabled in parliament on Monday evening by Finance Minister Clyde Caruana.

The minister denied claims by the Opposition that the budget is not sustainable. 

“This is absolutely not the case,” Caruana said and he looked forward to the budget being approved by Brussels soon, he told a press conference.

Asked about the deficit, which this year grew to 11.1% of GDP,  Fearne said the government brought in several measures that not only saved people’s lives but also their jobs and businesses. 

“The people know and understand this,” he said, giving a breakdown of all the COVID-19 measures implemented, including the wage supplement, the vouchers for all residents, the vaccine roll out as well as investment in protective gear for frontliners.

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