The Malta Independent 18 September 2019, Wednesday

Parliament reconvenes: Vitals concession, medicinal marijuana, domestic violence bill top of agenda

Helena Grech Monday, 15 January 2018, 09:02 Last update: about 3 years ago

Parliament reconvenes today after the Christmas recess, with the first major discussion expected to be Wednesday's session on the concession transfer from Vitals Global Healthcare to Steward Healthcare International.

Last month, Vitals Global Healthcare, the company which was entrusted with the provision of healthcare services through the Gozo, Karin Grech and St Luke's hospitals, sold its concession to an American company called Steward Healthcare System. VGH sold the concession only 21 months after securing a deal with the Maltese government. 

The deal has long been the source of controversy with the Opposition consistently calling for the full publication of the contract between the government and VGH, instead of the heavily redacted version presented in Parliament.

The government proposed a parliamentary debate in the house following the Opposition's call for a discussion to take place over the agreement within the Parliamentary Committee for Health.

Government argued that it should be discussed in the plenary to reflect the issue's importance while the Opposition has called on the Health Committee to be the platform of discussion because of the possibility of calling witnesses.

Last week, the Medical Association of Malta called the deal with VGH "fishy" (fazulla), especially when viewing what little refurbishment and construction works carried out on the three state hospitals despite receiving €34 million from Parliament in 2017.

MAM questioned whether the government got a good deal, stressing that ordinarily in a Public Private Partnership it is the private company, VGH, that puts up money for capital investment and after this government can then begin to pay them rent for operating and maintaining the three hospitals.

MAM has questioned why the government is paying VGH in advance with very little work having been carried out.

Curiously, a spokesperson for VGH said that the concession sale to Steward is not final and that negotiations are underway. Government on the other hand maintains that sale is final but that it is unaware of how much VGH made from the transaction.

Steward Healthcare International has a long track record with running American style hospitals, however professionals in the industry are concerned with the commercial approach such operators tend to take, more interested with the commercial entity's listing on the stock exchange rather than patient care.

Still, this would be more welcome news in view of VGH's non-existent track record in the health industry. Critics of the move have been made all the more sceptical in view of VGH's hidden ownership. It is not known who has profited from the sale of the concession as the true ownership of VGH is concealed through an offshore company.

In addition to the VGH sale concession, Parliament will also be finalising amendments to the Drug Dependency (Treatment not Imprisonment) Act which would allow products derived from cannabis for medicinal purposes to be available on the local market.

Malta remains one of the only countries that does not allow CBD oil, a particular cannabinoid from the cannabis plant which does not leave one with a traditionally 'stoned' feeling, to be sold over the counter in the European Union.

The amendments do not permit for the marijuana flower-bud to be consumed for medicinal purposes and expressly prohibits any doctor from prescribing marijuana intended to be smoked for patients.

Critics of the amendments question why written consent from the Superintendent of Health is required for very low-risk, run-of-the-mill medicinal products derived from cannabis as this will lengthen the process. Others have relayed concerns that because of the way the products have been legislated this would make them prohibitively expensive.

In addition, Malta will finally transpose provisions from the Istanbul Convention into national law which deals with gender-based and domestic violence. It is also intended to amend other laws in order to ensure that adequate, sufficient protection is available to victims of violence, and ensure that justice is made with regard to perpetrators of such violent acts.




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