Updated | Private hospitals to offer free MRI scans

Government reaches agreement with two private hospitals in bid to reduce waiting lists for MRI tests at Mater Dei

Health minister Konrad Mizzi and parliamentary secretary Chris Fearne have signed an agreement with two private hospitals as government is stepping up its efforts to reduce waiting lists at Mater Dei hospital.

The public private partnership (PPP) will see the St James and Da Vinci Hospital providing MRI tests, with government cover all expenses.

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil, who this morning visited St James Hospital, claimed that the PPP was “coincidentally” announced when the government knew the PN would be visiting a private hospital.

“We welcome the agreement, but it should have been done before saving patients months of waiting time,” Busuttil said.

Flanked by parliamentary secretary for health Chris Fearne, Mizzi said the deal will ensure that patients are offered a timely and quality service.

Fearne explained that although Mater Dei hospital had increased the daily MRI scans from 30 in 2012 to 55 this year, over 3,800 persons were on the waiting list.

Currently, the earliest appointments for an MRI scan are available in 2016, but Fearne said that the agreement would see the average waiting time cut down from two years to less than three months by May 2015.

Describing these waiting times as “unacceptable,” Fearne said that the PPP signalled government’s “commitment” to address the people’s concerns in the health sector, including the perennial waiting lists problem, which this government “inherited from previous administrations.”

Citing commercial confidentiality, Fearne refused to divulge information on how much the agreement costs, but when pressed he explained that government "will not pay much more" than it currently spends on scans which are carried out at Mater Dei.

Asked by this newspaper, the parliamentary secretary said that on average MRI scans at Mater Dei cost between €150 and €190. Fearne did not say how many scans the two private hospitals will be carrying out.

On his part, Mizzi underlined that health was one of government’s priorities and insisted that “the time for studies is now over, we must star implementing projects which address four main areas; excessive waiting lists, bed shortage, out of stock medicines and excessive waiting times at the emergency department.”

He said the PPP signed today was only the first step, as government was looking at further agreements which will see private hospitals provide services and infrastructural support.

Stressing that the private sector has a complimentary role in the health sector, Mizzi said such agreements offered private hospitals “investment opportunities,” while allowing government to provide better services, which the minister said will remain free of charge.  

The agreement was signed by Fearne on behalf of the health ministry, Pierre Vassallo for Da Vinci Hospital and Josie Muscat for St James Hospital.

Favouritism

Following accusation of favouritism in the distribution of medicines, Mizzi repeatedly called on the opposition leader Simon Busuttil to come forward with any information he has and substantiate his claims.

While explaining that the permanent secretary at the health ministry would be investigating these claims, Mizzi reassured “no political discrimination is taking place in the distributions of medicines,” insisting that “there will never be political discrimination under our watch."

This week, opposition leader Simon Busuttil claimed that the Pharmacy of Your Choice scheme was favouring individuals close to the Labour’s core, discriminating against both Labourites and Nationalists who were not in government’s inner circles.

According to Busuttil, these individuals were receiving “a call from the ministry” informing them when and from where to pick up the medicines they are entitled to.

Asked by MaltaToday to substantiate the allegation, Busuttil said the information had been disclosed by a pharmacist, Denise Ellul.

Asked whether he could confirm that Labour MP Silvio Parnis was personally distributing medicines at Labour Party clubs, Mizzi said he had no such information and insisted that the opposition should “stop throwing mud and if it has any information it should come forward with it.”

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