Steward warn government to back off ‘termination notice’ with legal threat

Steward says it will take legal action and file for police action over government’s attempt to pursue ‘control step-in and termination’

Updated at 1:30pm with government statement

Hospital concessionaires Steward have sent warning to the Maltese government that they will kick back against statements “made solely for political ends”, saying the health ministry had no legal basis on which to terminate the controversial privatisation deal.

Steward Health Care Malta, now a company based in Spain, had its 30-year concession on three state hospitals ruled null and void by a Maltese court law in a litigation commenced by Nationalist MP Adrian Delia.

But in response to claims by the Maltese government that it would ‘kick out’ Steward, the healthcare group responded by insisting any such termination had no legitimate legal basis.

It said it would take legal action and even file a criminal complaint with the police, holding the government liable for losses and damages if government persisted in its termination notice.

“Steward denies and rejects the government of Malta’s attempts to terminate what was already a concessionaire terminated concession. The government’s ‘control step-in notice and termination notice’ have no legal basis. Contrary to statements made publicly earlier this week, the government of Malta is legally not in a position to force its step in and is therefore not currently participating in any additional capacity within the concession,” Steward said.

Steward called on the government to cease its “legally unsound statements” and instead engage in a structured and smooth handover.

On 16 March 2023, Steward Malta issued to the government of Malta a notice of termination of the concession relating to the Gozo General Hospital, Karin Grech Rehabilitation Hospital and St Luke’s Hospital. This termination was based on several ‘Non-Rectifiable Events of Default’ by the government. According to the terms of the notice, the concession is deemed to be terminated on Saturday, 18 March 2023.  

“The Government Control Step-in Notice and Termination Notice is invalid and of no effect, and, therefore, the government’s actions to interfere with Steward Malta’s rights are unlawful,” Steward insisted.

“Steward Malta remains committed to ensuring a smooth and orderly transition. Our concern for a protected working and hospital environment for our patients and staff is paramount, as shown for example by our early payment of staff salaries for the month of March already this week. We will continue to manage the operations of the three hospitals that form the concession until a competent and capable party is legally able to step in and manage the wellbeing of staff and patients in our place. We again encourage the Government to partner in this transition in a responsible and constructive manner.”

Reacting to Steward’s statement, the government deemed it “unnecessary”.

“Government will remain firm in its position on the deal, and retains a strong legal position in favour of the Maltese and Gozitans,” it said.

It also repeated earlier statements in assuring patients that services will not be affected, and employees that their job will not be put in jeopardy.