The Malta Independent 22 February 2018, Thursday

The three-wheel trolley

Thursday, 8 February 2018, 10:21 Last update: about 14 days ago

What has been described as a mess, a national mess, has remained unsolved and is festering. A strike by doctors did not solve it. Stewards Healthcare, the American group which is said will be taking over from VGH, has not appeared in Malta yet, despite promises it will be here by last week.

Meanwhile at least one of the three hospitals run by VGH in the controversial Public-Private Partnership, has run out of money. According to Chris Said, the MP from Gozo, a patient was transferred to Malta in the past days on a trolley missing one of the wheels. This, Dr Said said, shows the extreme situation at the Gozo General Hospital, starved of even the bare minimum of funds.

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Yet the Minister for Gozo has not opened her mouth.

Nor did her predecessor.

Nor did the third government MP from Gozo, the Parliamentary Secretary.

The more days pass, the more we get to know details of the original VGH deal with the government and the murkier they sound. The most benign interpretation is that the deal was made by someone who has no idea how such deals should be made. VGH has absolutely no track record of managing hospitals. But somehow the deal was structured as if VGH was the world beater in hospitals. It promised huge investments that never came. It offered to build the Barts school which never happened. It offered to renovate the Gozo Hospital, which was never done. It offered to renovate St Luke's Hospital and Karen Grech Hospital but never got beyond the most preliminary stage.

And somehow, it bamboozled the government to sell it all the medical equipment in the three hospitals for just one Euro and one still wants to know what new medical equipment has been purchased.

Then it went one better and centralised all purchasing under one company (which has recently changed hands). The people in the field say prices have gone up astronomically. This has become a bottleneck creating delays. This, under a government which boasts it has cut waiting times for operations and which has cut down the number of out of stock medicines.

There is only one reason which comes to mind and that is corruption. We defy those behind this deal to prove otherwise. A usual enterprise has a system of checks and balances to avoid any temptation of corruption. When structures are simplified and telescoped, that puts a lot of power in very few hands and is an open invitation to corruption. We defy anyone to prove otherwise.

But the most important factor is that this deal imploded: it did not work. VGH ran into huge financial difficulties. What happened later may be summarised and interpreted that VGH cut its losses and ran.

The country has not received any cogent and reasoned explanation for this. All we know is that VGH sold to Stewards. Nor do we know, at least till now, that Stewards has asked for the MOU to be rewritten. Most of the VGH people have done a runner and disappeared from sight.

Many things have been happening in this country but this saga really takes the cake. In any other country, nay in our country under a different government calls would be made for an investigation to be held and those responsible punished. But when the government was asked to hold sittings of a parliamentary committee where the key persons could be summoned and asked questions, the government insisted that it would be more appropriate to hold a sitting in plenary, where, incidentally, no grilling could take place.

Why are we saying this and coming back to this issue? Simple, because such a mess undermines the entire credibility of the government and of the nation. One cannot hope to made economical success when the government is so patently weak and when things are done in such a non-sensical way. We are talking about the health of the nation which we now realise has become a plaything in the hands of inexperienced people. 
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