The Prime Minister recently stated that he will not discuss abortion because he does not have the political mandate or the support of public opinion to do so. While the Medical Association of Malta (MAM) agrees with this stance on abortion, we also feel that it applies to the privatisation of healthcare.

It is now accepted that Vitals Global Healthcare is not able to deliver, and in fact it has only carried out some cosmetic works at St Luke’s and Gozo General Hospital while allowing Karin Grech Hospital to descend into disrepair.

The Deputy Prime Minister said in Parliament that the contract to transfer the concession to another contractor has not yet been signed. MAM insists that this is the opportune time to have a discussion with stakeholders and the public whether the hospitals mentioned above should be privatised at all.

MAM has already requested the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office to investigate the contract with Vitals and whether it would be beneficial to the Maltese public and the Maltese taxpayer.

This request was presented to the NAO by Chris Fearne. Sadly, the NAO has not yet started its investigation and MAM insists that this should be concluded before the government considers entering a new deal with a new contractor.

Once Vitals did not uphold its obligations, the government should hold it to account, but this depends on the redacted parts of the contract

Also, once Vitals did not uphold its obligations, the government should hold it to account, but this depends on the redacted parts of the contract.

The government signed a deal called a Public Finance Initiative (PFI) or Private Public Partnership (PPP).

This is a way of the private sector investing in infrastructure e.g. building a hospital which is then leased back to the government. In this way the government avoids a large capital cost and the expense is spread over many years.

This was very popular in the UK, starting in the 1990s, but they were immediately controversial and have now become totally discredited. Only recently, one of these companies, Carillion, totally collapsed.

This company had 15 NHS contracts including two major hospitals, but it has become bankrupt with debts of over £1 billion. This will cause severe disruption to the British NHS.

The situation is worse in Malta and Gozo because the private investor will not only carry out construction work but will also manage the running of the hospitals.

MAM strongly advises the government not to repeat the mistakes made by the British NHS and to avoid a PFI/PPP, especially in times of economic prosperity.

There are other models of funding major capital costs. One example is the Special Investment Vehicle – Malita Investments.

This company was set up in Malta with funds from public shareholders to finance the construction of the new Parliament.

The same company will also finance the building of social housing.

This company or a similar one, can finance the renovation of the three hospitals in a transparent and honest manner that will be cheaper for the taxpayer than employing Vitals or Steward.

Martin Balzan is general secretary of the Medical Association of Malta.

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