St Luke’s still in a shambles and Karen Grech wards shabbier than ever

St Luke’s is still in a shambles and at Karen Grech, they spruced up the reception area but let almost all the wards become even shabbier than they ever were

The Vitals-Steward deal did so much harm to Malta and to Joseph Muscat’s reputation that it eclipsed any benefit that might be had some day after all the timeframes are agreed upon...
The Vitals-Steward deal did so much harm to Malta and to Joseph Muscat’s reputation that it eclipsed any benefit that might be had some day after all the timeframes are agreed upon...

Last Thursday, the GWU daily l-Orizzont published in its front page a report on a speech that Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Health, Chris Fearne, had delivered during a meeting organised by The GWU’s pensioner section.

What intrigued me in this speech was Fearne’s reference to St Luke’s Hospital, that is one of the hospitals whose management was privatised via the Vitals-Stewards route. I need not go into the details.

The public hospitals’ management concession was negotiated by Konrad Mizzi – the then health minister – and an unknown consortium, Vitals Global Healthcare, was selected to take over the running of the three hospitals. Eventually, as this sordid tale continues, Vitals Global Healthcare ceded their 30-year concession to an American company, Steward Healthcare.

I need not go again into the gory details but one must point out that while Vitals Global Healthcare were unknown, Steward do have a record of managing and running hospitals in the USA.

After pointing out that St Luke’s Hospital is to be used as a rehabilitation hospital and as a hospital servicing medical tourism, Fearne told his listeners that by October he will announce the timelines indicating how the project to modernise St Luke’s will proceed and when the project will be completed. Finally, the abandoned St Luke’s Hospital will be put into good use.

This, to me, is incredible. Fully three years and more after the concession was signed, apparently the concessionaires were still not bound by a programme of works including a timeline. Can anyone believe it?

Incredible, because this means that the management agreement – most of which is not in the public domain – did not indicate these timelines and specify when the project should be completed. How, therefore one is bound to ask, can anyone monitor and scrutinise whether the agreement gave the country good value for the money the government accepted to pay?

This explains why Fearne, last November, confirmed that the government had reopened talks with Steward on the 30-year concession after a report in The Times had revealed that the government had agreed to renegotiate some aspects of the multi-million-euro concession. He also implied that some services that are to be offered by Steward were not part of the original agreement.

As the farce rolled on, many observers assumed that Vitals could not deliver what they promised and what their contract bound them to deliver as they were a company with no track record in healthcare. Many assumed that the promised time parameters of many of their projects were not being realised. Now it seems that these parameters never existed and are still being negotiated by Chris Fearne.

I see the benefit of the privatisation of hospital management – not the selling of hospitals as some have erroneously described the Vitals/Stewards deal. But such deals have to be carefully crafted to ensure that the concessionaire forks out the money upfront and reaps the benefits later.

Over one-tenth of the concession period has already elapsed and the concessionaire has hardly forked out anything in the case of St Luke’s and Karen Grech hospitals. St Luke’s is still in a shambles and at Karen Grech, they spruced up the reception area but let almost all the wards become even shabbier than they ever were.

Meanwhile, in Gozo Steward are proceeding by fits and starts. Last December, the Prime Minister inaugurated the new Anatomy Centre in Gozo that is to form part of the campus of Barts Medical School.

The centre – adjacent to Gozo General Hospital – was built by Steward which is also managing the Gozo General Hospital and building the new Barts Medical School.

Perhaps timelines with Barts are more important than the non-existent ones with the Maltese government.

The Vitals-Steward deal did so much harm to Malta and to Joseph Muscat’s reputation that it eclipsed any benefit that might be had some day after all the timeframes are agreed upon...

Apparently, someone was in such a hurry to finalise the deal that there was no time to ensure that the benefit to the Maltese people from such deals are considered paramount.

New Italian government

Last Thursday morning, Italy’s new cabinet led by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte was formally sworn in. The new administration unites two rival political parties in an unlikely coalition between the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) and the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), demoting the right-wing Lega to the Opposition benches.

Interestingly, the only technocrat in the new Cabinet is Luciana Lamorgese, a former Milan ‘prefetta’ (security chief) and top civil servant with no political affiliation. She was appointed the new interior minister, replacing far-right Lega leader Matteo Salvini.

Lamorgese is a veteran of the interior ministry and in recent years she was in charge of planning refugee and migrant reception centres in northern Italy. She is known for promoting integration events and policies.

She was also the first female ‘prefetta’ of Milan. In that role she revoked a series of anti-migrant ordinances issued by some municipalities under the leadership of Salvini’s party.

Political observers believe her appointment marks a clear break from the era of Salvini, whose hardline immigration measures included the closure of Italian ports to NGO rescue vessels and the abolition of key protections for asylum seekers.

NGOs and aid groups hope that with the new government and above all with the new minister of the interior, Italian policy on the migration crisis can finally change.

Lamorgese’s vision on immigration is clear. In her words: ‘We see mayors who do not always play their part and I tell them that it is important to accept diversity, which is wealth, and proceed with integration.’

Matteo Salvini’s thirteen months at the top of the Interior Ministry left it in shambles. The Ministry of the Interior was transformed into a propaganda tool, spreading fears and insecurity, hatred and social rancour. The complex and delicate machine of public security was adapted to fit the exigencies of Salvini and his perpetual electoral campaign.

That is now in the past.

More in Blogs