[WATCH] Terminating Steward hospitals concession contract not yet off the table, Chris Fearne says

Xtra on TVM News Plus | Health Minister Chris Fearne and Opposition spokesperson Stephen Spiteri cross swords on the hospitals concession contract and ongoing talks with Steward Health Care

Health Minister Chris Fearne
Health Minister Chris Fearne

Terminating the hospitals concession contract is still an option government is considering in ongoing talks with Steward Health Care, Chris Fearne said.

However, the Health Minister would not reveal what is being discussed with the American company that bought the concession from Vitals Global Healthcare in 2018.

“We could choose to do nothing and leave everything as it is. We could agree on something better for patients. Or we could decide to end the contract. All three options remain on the table,” Fearne said on Monday when he appeared on TVM News Plus’s Xtra.

He added that government has been locked in talks for the past 18 months with a view to improve things within the parameters of EU procurement regulations.

“I am optimistic that Maltese and Gozitan patients will have a better service. Talks are at a delicate stage and will not reveal anything but we are now approaching the time to take decisions,” the Health Minister said.

The concession covers the Gozo General Hospital, St Luke’s Hospital and Karen Grech Hospital. Steward took over the three hospitals from VGH, which failed to live up to its contractual obligations to invest millions to transform them into state-of-the-art facilities.

The contract is also subject of a court case initiated by Nationalist MP Adrian Delia, who is seeking to annul the agreement and have the hospitals returned to the State.

Opposition health spokesperson Stephen Spiteri
Opposition health spokesperson Stephen Spiteri

Steward had asked for a renegotiation of certain aspects of the contract and incoming Prime Minister Robert Abela last year set up an evaluation board to assess the situation.

The results of the evaluation board have not been made public and discussions between the government and Steward are ongoing.

Steward refused to give the programme a comment on the situation.

Opposition health spokesperson Stephen Spiteri called out the government for failing to publish the results of the evaluation board.

“But we do have the report by the Auditor General that found serious shortcomings in the way the tender was awarded to VGH in 2015, raising doubts on the process’s transparency and pointing towards collusion,” Spiteri said.

He insisted that a Nationalist government would terminate the contract if there is a contractual basis for doing so because of the private company’s failure to live up to obligations.