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Heavily redacted versions of €200m hospital contracts released

Whole pages deleted, text contains lots of blank spaces

Gozo General Hospital

Gozo General Hospital

Updated with MAM statement at 10.55am

Health Minister Chris Fearne yesterday tabled in Parliament three heavily redacted contracts signed by the government and Vitals, the company given a 30-year concession to run three hospitals in Malta and Gozo.

The contracts, published yesterday, govern the €200 million redevelopment, maintenance and management of the Gozo, St Luke’s and Karin Grech hospitals, yet many of what Mr Fearne termed “commercially sensitive details” have been deleted from the contracts.

In the services concession agreement, 43 consecutive pages have been deleted.

The index shows these pages should show lists of equipment to be bought and installed by Vitals, concession milestones, termination payments and the parent company guarantee, among others.

Even when whole pages have not been deleted, the text that they contain is full of blank spaces.

“Main corridors and foyers are to be painted at least every [deleted] years,” is one such example of the heavy-handed redaction in the published contracts. The length of the guarantee on the waterproofing works on the new buildings has also been omitted.

One section, titled “Freedom of Information Act and other transparency obligations,” says the government may be obliged under a freedom of information request to disclose information without consulting with Vitals or obtaining its consent.

The time frames in the contract for Vitals to pass on information about an FOIA request are deleted.

The contract, signed by former health minister Konrad Mizzi, obliges Vitals to submit its annual audited financial statements to the government.

The contract also sets out circumstances in which the government will step in and take control of the hospitals.

The exact details of these clauses have all been deleted from the contract.

According to the index, the government will take over in cases of force majeure, a change in law, a “government rectification step in,” and a “government control step in”.

The government will be able to take control of the hospitals in the case of a national emergency, which would mean that Vitals operates the hospitals under the direction of the government, the contract says.

The health services delivery agreement, which is a separate contract, has 23 deleted pages.

The contract shows that a Chinese medicine clinic is going to be opened at St Luke’s hospital.

The agreement says there is a growing recognition of traditional Chinese medicine among the Maltese people, and expanding these services would be beneficial. A number of key performance indicators in the agreement, including the availability of beds, medical equipment availability, in-patient and outpatient care and patient care and satisfaction have all been deleted.

The three hospitals will be staffed by people retained on the government payroll, as well as staff brought in by Vitals.

The government has signed a number of agreements with unions in which it has guaranteed that none of the workers deployed at the three hospitals will lose their employment with the State.

The third contract published yesterday, the labour supply agreement, acknowledges that Vitals may require a degree of flexibility that is not provided for in the government workers’ conditions of employment.

The government committed itself in the contract to using “reasonable endeavours to liaise, discuss and negotiate revisions of work practices, job description and shift patterns, with a view to accommodating the reasonable requests of the concessionaire [Vitals] in this regard”.

The clause states that Vitals acknowledges that the government shall have no responsibility if the workers or their unions refuse to comply with any revisions to their working conditions.

In a statement this morning, the Medical Association of Malta said it was disappointed that the published contracts were heavily redacted.

It said it was now waiting for the publication of the promised audit and reserved its position until a due diligence exercise was carried out by the Auditor General.

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