The Malta Independent 22 February 2020, Saturday

Godfrey Farrugia on VGH: ‘Now you know why OPM wanted to change my portfolio from Health Minister’

Kevin Schembri Orland Wednesday, 16 January 2019, 13:17 Last update: about 2 years ago

PD Leader Godfrey Farrugia today posted a statement on Facebook, slamming the Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) deal and strongly hinting that he was removed from the post of Health Minister because he opposed the deal.

“Now you know what was going on in the Office of the Prime Minister, and why OPM wanted to change my portfolio from the Minister for Health to social services or the environment,” he wrote, indicating that he lost his position in the Cabinet just one year after taking office as Health Minister simply because he was not ready to accept the Vitals contract proposed by the government, which was still in the making at that time.

The Vitals contract was still to be negotiated at the time, but that was the way things were going when Prime Minister Joseph Muscat offered Farrugia a change of ministry.

Vitals Global Healthcare had signed a deal with government to run two hospitals in Malta, and the Gozo General Hospital. It later pulled out of the concession and sold it to Stewards Healthcare. Recently, questions were raised as to what Vitals Global Healthcare had done with the millions government paid to the company. The company was also meant to invest around €200 million in St Luke's Hospital, Karin Grech Hospital and the Gozo General Hospital. The VGH deal with government was signed in 2015, but it had been planned long before that.

In March 2014, Farrugia had resigned from Cabinet after PM Muscat had wanted him to exchange the health ministry with the social policy ministry. In his letter of resignation, he had thanked the Prime Minister for offering him the Social Policy and Environment ministry, however turning down the offer. He had said that when he accepted the role as Minister for Health, he did so as he saw it as an opportunity to strengthen his services to the needs and the dignity of patients, a goal which he always had.

Farrugia, speaking today with The Malta Independent, said that he is in favour of public private partnerships, and public social partnerships, but not the sale of a whole hospital.

“When I was health minister, there was no evidence regarding a contract with Vitals Global Healthcare. I heard about it through the media like everyone else.”

He said that he, as minister, had worked on changing the Health Act, and also costed each and every service in order for the budget to reflect the real amount spent. This, he said, helped plan on the amount which would need to be budgeted for the healthcare sector each year. He commissioned a Health in Transition report, he said, which took a snapshot of all the services in the public and private healthcare sectors in Malta. This, he said, gave an indication on the number of beds needed, number of nurses etc.

He said that a specific study on bed occupancy for the next 30 years had also been conducted. He said that everything was in place to see in which sectors and spheres public-private-partnerships would be needed. When they studied the expenses of the services, he said it gave an idea of which operations or services would be kept run by the public sector, or run through a PPP system.

He said he was never asked what kind of PPP government should go for as a minister. He said he is in favour of PPPs where government conducts such agreements in niche sectors where it would make sense for government to go into such agreements, but not a whole hospital. “Gozo General Hospital has the whole island’s population within its catchment,” he said, adding that he does not agree with a portion of the population having to go to a hospital run by a private entity without any other option.

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