Updated 10.42am - Nurses reserve judgment until meeting US investors

The doctors’ union shall be ordering industrial action across all health sectors as from Monday, saying the government failed to consult it prior to announcing the transfer of three state hospitals to Steward Health Care. 

This, the Medical Association of Malta said on Tuesday morning, was in breach of the collective agreement. MAM did not say whether industrial action would include strikes.

Read: VGH investor again tries to stop hospitals transfer to Steward Healthcare

The MAM contends that according to its collective agreement, the government must give it at least six weeks' notice whenever it wanted to contract a private firm to provide free healthcare on its behalf, including outsourced services.

The agreement also said that any instances of outsourcing and public private partnerships had to be discussed in specific meetings for a specific detailed agreement to be reached.

Steward Healthcare is expected to take over the management of the St Luke’s, Karin Grech, and Gozo General hospitals from Vitals Global Healthcare. The takeover comes barely two years into a 30-year deal that could stretch to 99

MAM keeps its European options open

MAM said it would be convening all its sections to explain the reasons and discuss the planned directives, and indicated it was open to forging alliances with other unions in the medical sector. 

The union also intended to take legal action as necessary in national and European courts.

It called on the government to withdraw it consent for the transfer of the concession and to recoup its property in the national interest.

Read: Steward must absorb €900,000 Vitals loan

The transfer between VGH and Steward was announced last month. A series of media reports have since said that  VGH was facing mounting financial difficulties, failing to meet key milestones, and racking up debt with suppliers.

Reports on the company’s poor state of financial health were also coupled with questions over its ultimate beneficial owners, who were never disclosed.

VGH eventually sold its 30-year concession to manage three State hospitals just 21 months into its operation.

Read: Vitals deal investigation still pending

Once a deal with Steward was all but signed, Health Minister Chris Fearne took to Twitter to announce how “the real deal” would now be managing a large chunk of the island’s healthcare.

But MAM believes the Steward deal could likely suffer the same fate as VGH.

In the interest of the rule of law, the government should also formally request the Auditor General to proceed with immediate effect with his investigation, and request the Malta Financial Services Authority or review the audited accounts of VGH, MAM said.

Read: Heavily redacted versions of €200m hospital contracts released

This was to establish what has happened to the €60 million it passed to the company and take the necessary measures to recoup valuable tax payers’ money.

Read: Revealed: VGH to be paid €188,000 a day to provide hospital beds for government

Nurses also lean towards industrial action

Should doctors push ahead with industrial action on Monday, they may find themselves with company, in the form of Gozo-based midwives and nurses.  

In a separate announcement on Tuesday morning, the Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses also set the stage for an industrial dispute, saying the government was meddling in the running of Gozo General Hospital - one of the three hospitals granted to VGH by concession. 

MUMN officials at Gozo General Hospital on Tuesday morning. Photo: Keith MicallefMUMN officials at Gozo General Hospital on Tuesday morning. Photo: Keith Micallef

The MUMN said that it had struck a deal with hospital management concerning new rosters at the hospital which was to start being implemented on Monday. 

But everything had ground to a half after hospital management received a telephone call from the Health Ministry, the union claimed.

"This is a very negative precedent and will blot relations between the MUMN and hospital management," the union said. 

Should the roster agreement not be honoured by Monday, 5 February, nurses and midwives would begin industrial action starting with operating theatres, the union said. 

The industrial action would only be applicable to Gozo General Hospital staff, the union said.

Asked about the takeover by Steward Healthcare, MUMN general secretary Colin Galea expressed his disappointment that they were not consulted whatsoever on the matter.

“We only learnt about it a couple of minutes after the first media reports were published through a phone call from the office of the Health Minister,” he said.

However, he said the MUMN would only take a stand on the deal later this week, after it met with the American investors.

Unlike the doctors' union, the government is under no obligation to consult with nurses before privatising healthcare services, Mr Galea noted. 

Whether nurses would join doctors in their industrial action remained to be seen, he said.

"A lot will depend on the outcome of our meeting with Steward," the MUMN boss said.

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