The Malta Independent 15 October 2021, Friday

Updated: Steward agreement has not been revised, Fearne says

Tuesday, 12 October 2021, 13:22 Last update: about 3 days ago

There has not been an update in the concession agreement the government has with Steward Healthcare for the administration of what were previously public hospitals, Health Minister Chris Fearne said today.

Asked why more funds have been allocated in 2022 to run the Karin Grech and Gozo Hospitals, Fearne said the government is investing in Gozo and this is why there has been a rise in the allocation of funds.

According to the estimates for 2022, Steward Healthcare will be getting some €20 million more than in 2021 to run the hospitals.

“There have been no new arrangements to the concession. The increase is a result of more investment in the health sector,” he said.

The topic has been the subject of political controversy and the matter was even taken to court by former opposition leader Adrian Delia, who is seeking the return of the hospitals to the public. 

Fearne was speaking at a press conference to highlight measures for the health sector that were unveiled un the budget for next year by Finance Minister Clyde Caruana on Monday.

Fearne responded to the Nationalist party leader Bernard Grech’s comments on how the government had not accounted for a large part of this year’s spending.

Fearne said that Grech failed to take into account the large investment the government took for COVID-19 measures, but that nonetheless the people “know and understand” what they have done.

He mentioned that besides the vouchers, wage supplement and business subsidies, Grech did not mention the free vaccines, the five new ITU centres, all the free testing centres, PPE equipment as well as ventilators.

Also speaking at the press conference, Caruana denied claims by the Opposition that the budget is not sustainable. 

“This is absolutely not the case,” Caruana said.

Caruana said that the country’s finances at this stage of the pandemic are in better shape than when PN was last in government.

“Under a PN administration the debt burden stood at 69% in 2012. Today, after a pandemic the debt is forecast to reach 62% of GDP,” the minister said.

He added that along with every measure announcement during his budget speech yesterday, he stated how much it will cost and how many people were to benefit.

By contrast, he said that the PN had not justified the deficit during their administration which had resulted in Malta being placed in the Excessive Deficit Procedure by the EU.

Moreover, Caruana noted that even this year, the PN hadn’t given an estimate cost of their proposed measures for the 2022 Budget. He added that he had directly asked the PN spokesperson for finance Mario De Marco on NET TV to provide an estimate costing of their measures, but remained unanswered.

When asked about the increase in VAT receipts of more than €200 million next year, Caruana said this would come from two principle sources: more tourists and increased household consumption and remarked that enforcement will increase to ensure that what is due is collected.

Turning to the topic of booster vaccines, Minister Fearne said up until now there was not enough data about vaccine immunity to justify administered the booster shot to the general population under the 70 age group but that the government already has enough vaccines allocated for this if the case arises.

 

In addition, he said that they are currently awaiting approval to administer first COVID-19 vaccination to the under 12 age group for which the government already has enough supply. 

 

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