[WATCH] St Vincent de Paul bed rates to be recalculated after NAO conclusions, minister says

After the NAO lambasted a management contract worth €274 million awarded by St Vincent de Paul, Elderly Minister Michael Farrugia says the negotiated bed rates are being re-evaluated to determine whether prices were correct

Elderly Minister Michael Farrugia
Elderly Minister Michael Farrugia

An audit firm is being engaged to re-evaluate how bed rates for the controversial new extension at St Vincent de Paul (SVDP) were calculated, Elderly Minister Michael Farrugia said.

He was reacting to the findings of the National Audit Office on a €274 million contract awarded by direct order by SVDP for the management of a new 500-bed extension. The NAO said the contract was awarded in breach of the law and the bed rates negotiated with the private company were inflated.

Farrugia said a renowned audit company had been tasked in 2016 with making an assessment to see how much beds at SVDP cost government. The firm established how the facility incurred an occupied bed per night rate of €105.50, and an available bed per night rate at €98.29.

These rates served as the basis for the discounted rates that were to be charged by the James Caterers and Malta Healthcare consortium that was awarded the tender for the management of the four new residential blocks. The same company had won a tender to redevelop the SVPD kitchen and build new wings.

“We will be engaging auditors to see how exactly they calculated the rates and determine whether the price is right or whether it needs to be re-evaluated,” Farrugia said.

It is unclear whether this is the same audit firm that conducted the original calculations of the rates.

Government has been defending these prices by saying that the beds at SVDP cannot be compared to those in an elderly home. Farrugia emphasised this on Friday, arguing that the prices of these beds need to be compared to those that are already in use at SVDP.

“At SVDP, the cure given is more specialised, more intensive, and the attention given isn’t that expected at an elderly home,” Farrugia said. “You have to compare an elderly home to an elderly home, while the cost of beds in the new blocks needs to be judged against the ones given at SVDP. The beds are complementary, they’re not different to the ones at SVDP.”

However, Farrugia admitted that the contract should have been given a green-light from Cabinet, and to avoid this in the future, government must set up a standard operating procedure for situations like this.

Prime Minister Robert Abela also admitted this last Monday. Addressing a Cabinet meeting held at the Inspire Foundation in Marsaskala, Abela said the contract should have been presented to Cabinet for approval. However, he ultimately defended the project, insisting the 540 beds were important to reduce the waiting lists for elderly seeking accommodation.