Minister: I didn’t comment on ambulances
Health Minister Joseph Cassar insisted yesterday that he had not spoken to a journalist of The Sunday Times working on a story about the ambulance service.
Dr Cassar took umbrage at the fact that, at one point in an item entitled Hired Ambulances Not Up To Contract Specifications, the newspaper attributed his spokesman’s denial directly to the minister himself.
“The minister never spoke to or corresponded with the journalist about this case, so words attributed to him are untrue,” a statement issued by the Health Ministry said.
The Sunday Times yesterday reported that a Health Ministry spokesman initially denied the story via e-mail, saying: “Kindly note that all ambulances hired by Mater Dei Hospital are according to standard EN1789 as is stipulated in the contract. Therefore, the claim that ambulances are not being hired according to specs as stipulated in the contract is false.”
However, two ambulances that were wider than the specifications allowed by the contract were used for four days.
So, although the ambulances could have been EN1789 compliant, they did not meet the contractual specifications agreed by the Health Department and supplier.
The Health Minister’s spokesman only conceded to this when he was told that The Sunday Times had an e-mail proving that such a concession was made.
“As agreed, for a temporary measure these ambulances will be driven by (Frontline Ambulance Service) drivers at no extra expense to the (health) department until the compliant ambulances with the specs be repaired,” the e-mail, sent by one of the hospital’s top management personnel, acting on the instructions of the chief executive officer, said.
The statement issued by the ministry yesterday noted that its spokesman never denied there was a concession about the use of ambulances that were too wide. The Sunday Times had asked specifically whether an ambulance that was wider than permitted by contractual specifications was used.
This was one of several questions that met the response that “all” ambulances were according to the contractual specifications and any claim to the contrary was “false”.
The ministry yesterday confirmed that while all ambulances used by Mater Dei Hospital met the safety standards required in the contract, in this case, two ambulances that were 10 and 30 centimetres too wide respectively were used for “about four days”.
The ministry also said that all decisions were taken in the interests of patients and that the e-mail that reached The Sunday Times was part in a series intended to give patients the best service.
Mater Dei Hospital also issued a statement stressing that patients were never put at risk.
The hospital, which operates seven ambulances at any given time, said the ambulances were used between August 3 and 7, while other ambulances were undergoing urgent repairs, and were still compliant with the European standard EN1789.
“To ensure continuing provision of service and avoidance of risk, this concession was granted for this short period.
“These two ambulances were used for provision of service in roads that were not very narrow and were driven by drivers provided by the contractor.
“These drivers fulfilled criteria set by the Emergency and Admitting Department at Mater Dei Hospital,” the hospital said.