[WATCH] Healthcare unions urge government to pull the plug on Steward hospitals deal

Hospitals deal is a ‘failed model’ and government should pull out of it, MAM President Martin Balzan and MUMN secretary-general Colin Galea insist

(From left) MAM president Martin Balzan, MUMN secretary-general Colin Galea, Opposition MP Stephen Spiteri and Xtra host Saviour Balzan
(From left) MAM president Martin Balzan, MUMN secretary-general Colin Galea, Opposition MP Stephen Spiteri and Xtra host Saviour Balzan

The hospitals deal with Vitals Global Healthcare was a “failure” that has cost taxpayers €180 million with nothing to show for, health practitioners have warned.

Urging the government to “cut its losses”, the two major unions in the health sector insisted the privatisation model did not work.

Medical Association of Malta President Martin Balzan was scathing in his criticism of the deal that saw the Gozo general hospital, St Luke’s and Karin Grech, being transferred to the obscure private company, which subsequently sold the concession to American outfit, Steward Healthcare.

“We could have forked out €200 million ourselves, and carried out the projects ourselves, instead, we’re paying a businessman €1.5 billion for €200 million worth of work. It’s a failed model,” Balzan said on TVM’s Xtra on Thursday.

Under the concession agreement, Steward Healthcare have to build a state-of-the-art general hospital in Gozo and refurbish St Luke’s and Karin Grech. The government would buy beds from the concessionaire, who would also make money from medical tourism.

VGH had pulled out of the deal after the company failed to raise funds for the promised investments and sold out to Steward Healthcare. The American company is now seeking a renegotiation of the deal with government.

READ ALSO: Vitals amassed €36 million in debts over two years

Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses secretary-general Colin Galea agreed with Balzan’s assessment, noting that “the only positive thing” of the deal was that the projects were supposed to have been completed earlier than if carried out by the government. “But even this has failed to materialise,” Galea said.

PN health spokesperson Stephen Spiteri: 'VGH deal was a ghost'
PN health spokesperson Stephen Spiteri: 'VGH deal was a ghost'

Opposition health spokesperson Stephen Spiteri described the Vitals hospitals deal as “a ghost”.

“We know they never completed any project they were meant to undertake, no target or deadline was reached, no stone was laid, they just left €36 million in debt, and we don’t know where this debt came from,” Spiteri said.

He said the whole project was a waste of people’s taxes on an investment with zero return.

Spiteri said the Opposition had always opposed the privatisation of core services such as health because the private sector will always seek to make profits, to the detriment of patients and employees.

Spiteri also questioned why the government is continuing to fork out money while the obligations as laid out in the agreement are not being honoured, adding that Prime Minister Robert Abela should investigate and, if need be, fine Steward, or drop the contract.

Martin Balzan added that if the obligations as laid out in the contract are not met, the deal becomes null and void. 

“I would let it fail instead of giving them more money. Our advice to government is ‘cut your losses’… if this has to fail, let it fail, and let us learn our lesson,” Balzan said.

Balzan insisted that the fact that Steward are asking for more money from the government shows that they too have realised the project as originally conceived is not viable.

Galea, meanwhile, argued that, now that Malta’s financial situation is not what it was when the deal was first signed, the Prime Minister should seriously consider revising his position.

The MUMN secretary-general stressed that the most important thing is that the government keeps to the timeframe which was promised regarding the building and refurbishment projects, for the sake of both employees and patients.