Nursing union balks at Steward profits: ‘Tax money down the drain’

MUMN calls out €6 million profit for Steward, says cash could have built new mental health hospital

The entrance to the St Luke’s and Karin Grech hospitals, which passed under Steward as part of the three-hospital concession. The other hospital is the Gozo General Hospital
The entrance to the St Luke’s and Karin Grech hospitals, which passed under Steward as part of the three-hospital concession. The other hospital is the Gozo General Hospital

Nursing union MUMN said it was shocked at learning that the American private healthcare group Steward had booked a €22 million profit on its concession to operate three state hospitals.

MUMN boss Paul Pace said the cash could have easily been used to refurbish the mental health institution Mount Carmel Hospital or for new Mater Dei Hospital wards, referring to the annual outlays paid by the State to Steward.

Steward Malta’s pre-tax €6 million profit in 2020 comes despite claims it has issues with the government hospitals.

The American company took over the running of three public hospitals in 2018 from Vitals Global Healthcare, and claims the “unbankable” government contract must be completely renegotiated.

But in 2021, an additional €40 million was allocated to Steward, over and above €50 million first allocated to the company in last year’s 2021 Budget.

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Pace compained that Mater Dei is now hosting patients in the medical library, the staff canteen and the corridors of MDH. “Wards which not fit to host any patients but are still being used, since there is no more wards available in MDH to the deterring of both staff and patients,” he said.

Pace added that capital investment projects such as a new outpatients block and parking space at Mater Dei, as well as new hospitals for mental health and mother and child healthcare, as well as a primary healthcare hub in the north, had not started.

“These ‘promised’ projects have been left on the shel f due to financial problems in the healthcare sector. The Maltese pay a high price for this agreement with Steward, since this taxpayers’ money could easily have been used for much needed investments in the medical sector. Instead, the money is being ‘used’ for making an American company richer than it is already is. This is certainly not right,” Pace said.

“The government should address this urgently and not hide behind any court case. Millions of taxpayers’ money are going down the drain every year and no government official is being held accountable. Accountability is only expected from the common people, but it is non-existent from politicians. This is daylight robbery and nobody in government is trying to stop it.”

Finance Minister Clyde Caruana last year accused Steward of failing to make the necessary investment to revamp the hospital facilities and services. The spokesperson, however, insisted that throughout 2020, Steward made investments in “people, facilities, equipment and supplies, including in-patient capacity and acquiring additional equipment.

In an uncompromising excoriation of the contract, the National Audit Office said the failures of Labour’s privatisation of the state hospitals was down to the selection of VGH as the concessionaire, “a poor choice that set the stage for what was to come.”

“The negotiations that quickly followed selection were similarly flawed, conditioned to an extent by the structural anomalies and organisation of the Ministry for Energy and Health and the general ill-preparedness in terms of what was sought by government through this concession.”

The defunct Vitals Global Healthcare achieved none of its milestones when it took control of three state hospitals in a controversial, multi-million privatisation deal.