Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland to start offering courses in Malta from January
The Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland will, as of next January, start offering training courses for Maltese health specialists, Health Minister Chris Fearne announced yesterday.
The courses will be offered in conjunction with the Medical School, he said. Speaking during the debate on the financial estimates of the health ministry, Mr Fearne said the previous administration had also tried to bring the RCSI to Malta but failed. RCSI will also be establishing an examinations centre in Malta.
The health minister said the RCSI was the latest big name in the industry to come to Malta.
Turning to other matters, Mr Fearne blasted Opposition leader Simon Busuttil for criticising the purchase of generic medicines by the state. When shadow health minister Claudette Buttigieg insisted that this was not true, Mr Fearne said this was symptomatic of the Opposition. “Busuttil is not a leader of the Opposition but a leader of no position. He has suddenly changed his position on generics just as he changed his position on the morning-after pill in a few hours.”
The government, he said, would be irresponsible to shun generics and only buy top brand products. “If we replace all generics with top brands the cost of medicines would rise from €60 to €100. This is about sustainability. This does not mean that we will not listen to those who for some specific reason cannot take generics and that we will not make special allowances for them.”
He also accused the PN of being against the hospital privatisation agreements “because it did not want what was good for the country.”
He said the government has started a stocktaking exercise to identify what medical equipment it will need in the next few years. “We know that we will need a third MRI machine because we estimate that the demand for scans, currently at 20,000, will rise by another 10,000 in the next couple of years. We want to see whether the private sector is interested in buying the equipment and enter into an agreement to use it.” Similar agreements can be drawn up for the use of other equipment and services.
Claudette Buttigieg said this procedure had been adopted by the PN government, including for the PET scan. Mr Fearne pointed out that the waiting list for the MRI back then was still extensive.
“We want to work with the private sector. This is the same thing we are doing with VGH. We are telling them to invest €200 million in the hospitals. They will run part of the operation while the rest will be used as part of the national health services.”
Mr Fearne defended the deal, saying that worker’s rights and conditions were safeguarded. “The PN does not even know how to read a contract properly,” he said. “There are consequences to every action but there are worse consequences for inaction. The Opposition does not want this project because it does not want what is good for the country.”
He produced a number of photos, including some of the old kitchens and toilets at the St Luke’s and Gozo hospital. “You left a rubbish dump behind you and you want to give people this sort of second class treatment. “
Mr Fearne said the situation in the health sector had changed greatly since 2013. “Today we get criticised if a single medicine is out of stock. We are being criticised for not being perfect in every single thing.”
Earlier in the debate, the shadow minister mentioned four types of medicine she claimed were out of stock. “I have in the meantime emailed the CEO of the CPSU and he has informed me that all four are in fact in stock. It seems you are misinformed,” Mr Fearne said. The PN MP rebutted by saying that medicines fell under the responsibility of two different departments which were out of synch.
At the beginning of the debate, PN MP Claudette Buttigieg slammed government on the Vitals Global Healthcare agreement, saying that on 30 November, 2015 the agreement with Vitals Global Healthcare was signed, also stating that on 2 December, 2015 Karl Cini sent a letter giving the OK to open accounts for certain Panama companies.
She said that according to reports, in correspondence with the BSI bank “They are asking re the $1million deposit. Is this for initial deposit only? Is there a minimum they need to keep as running/average balance?” This email, she said, was dated 26 November, 2015. She added that on 2 December, Mr Cini gave the goahead to Mossack Fonseca to open the bank accounts for two Panama companies.
She mentioned the mother companies of Vitals Global Healthcare, and said that the ultimate mother company is one based in the British Virgin Islands, where the ultimate beneficial owner is still not known to the public. She also said that a number of these companies were created just days before Vitals Global Healthcare won the contract.
The PN MP told Parliament that Health Minister Chris Fearne has a good reputation, and that he shouldn’t sully it with this contract.
She criticised government for not publishing the whole contract. She read from the agreement between government and Vitals Global Healthcare, which states that government has the final say as to whether to publish all information in the contracts if there were legal or political obligations. “So it is not true that government was tied and couldn’t publish all the information. It says that government has a legal and political obligation to publish everything. Does this mean Ministers Chris Fearne, Konrad Mizzi and the Prime Minister feel they have the obligation to publish this information?”
She mentioned that the majority of numbers and figures were blanked out.
The PN MP also said that certain things in the contract were also not done well, for example where under certain services the phrase “etc.” is used.
She explained that Vitals Global Healthcare can fire workers, if there is a serious justifiable cause, however added that there is no definition as to what constitutes a serious justifiable cause.
The MP also asked if there were due diligence checks on the other bidders for the contract not chosen, and how many Maltese companies showed interest in this proposal.
She then said that the problems with bed space is also an issue. At St Vincent de Paul home, they are putting five people in a four person room.
She mentioned certain items which are still out of stock at Mater Dei Hospital.
On mental healthcare, she said that the PN is against the privatisation of this sector.
She appealed to the minister to publish the new cancer plan, since the old one expired. She also asked for the current stage of the patients’ charter.
PN MP Mario Galea spoke about mental healthcare. “There are 350 million people suffering from depression around the world. In Malta, there are around 35,000 suffering from depression. Many of those who suffer from it are not seeking care, because they are not screened well by doctors”.
He said that untreated depression is the main cause of suicide. “Malta’s suicide rate is below EU level, but it is rising like every country in the world. Suicide is more common in men than women and the elderly in social exclusion”.
“We must start speaking responsibly on suicide, as we can avoid it. The person would be going through a bad time, but the sun will rise again”.
The EU through the Mental Health Pact, he said, is calling for national strategies against suicide. He urged Malta to work on such a strategy.