Updated | Government afraid of involving stakeholders in VGH discussion - PN

The Nationalist Party had originally requested that the parliamentary health committee discuss the sale, however the government suggested a plenary debate would give the subject the 'importance it merits'.

Nationalist MPs David Agius and Stephen Spiteri
Nationalist MPs David Agius and Stephen Spiteri

The Nationalist Party has claimed that the government’s suggestion, to hold a plenary debate on the sale of the concession for the running of three Maltese hospitals, rather than a discussion in the parliamentary health committee, was due to the fact that it was ‘afraid of involving stakeholders’ in the discussion.

It added that the government clearly had a lot to hide, and was thus afraid to answer questions from stakeholders, including the Auditor General.  "The Opposition is not against a plenary sitting debate, but it still wants a committee debate where everyone can participate," said the PN. 

Addressing a press conference earlier today, Nationalist Party deputy leader for parliamentary affairs David Agius, said the PN had called on the parliamentary health committee to discuss the state of healthcare at the St Luke's, Karin Grech and the Gozo General Hospital. 

Opposition MPs within the Public Accounts Committee would also be calling for the Auditor General to investigate the sale of the three hospitals to Steward Health Care System, only 20 months into VGH's 30-year contract, he said. 

The government later issued a statement saying it agreed that the subject should be discussed but proposed holding a plenary debate, rather than a discussion in the health committee, which can ask for third parties to appear before it.

"This issue cannot be considered a financial transaction, particularly since the contract published previously was severely censored," Agius said. "Only afterwards did we learn for example that all the equipment had been sold for a mere Euro."

He said it was important to determine why VGH had left Malta just 20 months into a 30-year contract.

"Was this in any way precipitated by EU legislation to be introduced shortly? Or is it true that VGH have in fact left Malta since March last year?"
Agius said the public needed reassurance that all public procurement procedures had been followed in the sale to VGH.

"How much money had VGH benefited from before leaving Malta? And will the government now accept to publish the contract with VGH in its entirety?"

READ MORE: Vitals is selling Malta hospitals concession to American company

Shadow health minister Stephen Spiteri said that the opposition acknowledged that Steward Health Care, contrary to VGH, at least had a proven track record in the medical sector in the US.

"However, the American system is different to the European healthcare system and we need to ascertain that our patients and workers will not suffer under the new ownership," he said.

Spiteri said there was already enough justification for the government to reclaim the three hospitals, since VGH had defaulted on numerous targets and conditions that had been set in its contract.

Government statement

Responding to the PN’s press conference, the government said it agreed that a parliamentary discussion on “this positive development” should take place.

It said it noted the opposition’s request for a discussion on the agreement reached between Vitals Global Healthcare and Steward Healthcare on the public-private partnership regarding three Maltese hospitals.

It added that while the Opposition had requested that a discussion take place in the parliamentary committee on health, the government was proposing that a plenary debate be dedicated to the discussion.

“Government is satisfied that a company like Steward Healthcare, which has an excellent track record in healthcare in the United States will be running Karin Grech, St Luke’s and the Gozo General Hospital,” read a government statement.

“Steward Healthcare runs 36 hospitals in the United States and employs 37,000 healthcare professionals.”

Moreover, the government sought to “remind” PN deputy leader David Agius that “on the government’s own initiative”, it had passed on the contracts signed between the government and VGH, to be scrutinised by the Auditor General.

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