Doctors in Malta have agreed to initiate industrial action as from next week as a three state hospitals pass into the hands of American private healthcare giant Steward.
The Medical Association of Malta was authorised by its executive council to launch industrial action, after doctors refused to meet with Steward, which will take over the Gozo, St Luke’s and Karin Grech hospitals from Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH).
“No, we will not meet with Steward. We are being kept in the dark, we must see the contract signed between the company and government and be informed of what is going on,” MAM president Martin Balzan told The Times. “At the moment it appears as though this deal is bad news.”
The Nationalist Party on Monday morning filed a court action in a bid to stop the transfer.
VGH was granted a 30-year concession on the three hospitals, with a unilateral option to extend it to 99 years. But the unknown consortium, made up of four investors, was unable to secure the necessary capital to take the project forward and decided to transfer its concession after just 21 months.
Balzan said the MAM would even consider a full-blown strike. “We are concerned that we could still be in the same mess we were in under Vitals. The deal is simply a mess and should be scrapped and a new one drawn up,” Dr Balzan said.
In a statement, the MAM said that the government of Malta was in breach of its collective agreement, namely to give prior notice of not less than six weeks to MAM whenever it intends to contract any private entity to manage professional medical services at any health care facility providing free health care to the public on behalf of the state.
MAM said the government was bound in cases of PPP to discuss such outsourcing in specific meetings, and reach a specific detailed agreement.
The MAM council said widespread industrial action will take place in all health sectors in Malta in Gozo as from Monday 5 February, and that it would proceed with any legal action as necessary in the national and European law courts.
Balzan has accused the government of putting its efforts to try and save face over the national interest. “Look, even if the government really believes that entering into a Public Private Partnership to run these hospitals is the best option, it must realise that the deal it struck with Vitals was not working – keeping that same deal simply doesn’t make sense,” he said, adding that he expected more transparency and consistency from Steward than he had seen from Vitals.
Former health minister Konrad Mizzi, who is today tourism minister, has come under fire over his role – as minister responsible for the PPP arm Projects Malta – in the deal.
Media reports revealed how the four investors behind VGH had already a memorandum of understanding in hand from the government signalling they would take over the hospitals, before a public call for interested parties was issued.