Main photo: Health Minister Chris Fearne, Circle photo: Technoline owner Ivan Vassallo
Health Minister Chris Fearne has confirmed that plans are underway to scrap a controversial deal which granted local medical supplier Technoline exclusive procurement rights for the St Luke’s, Karin Grech and Gozo hospitals.
“Both Steward Health Care and I don’t believe in a model of procurement that grants exclusivity to a single company,” Fearne told Lovin Malta. “Steward is working to reverse the [Technoline] contract.”
The procurement deal was signed in July 2017 by Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH), which ran the hospitals for around three years before financial problems forced it to sell its concession to American health giant Steward Health Care. The deal angered Technoline’s competitors, as they were forced to submit bids for equipment of those three hospitals to a direct competitor, giving it inside knowledge of their own prices.
The deal was signed only a few months after Technoline’s former manager Ivan Vassallo bought out the firm’s original shareholders, raising suspicion that he might have had been aware such a lucrative deal was in the pipeline.
Chris Fearne with former VGH director Ram Tumuluri
The saga took another twist yesterday when The Shift News revealed that VGH had used a Jersey company to loan Vassallo €5.14 million in December 2016, a few months before he started buying out Technoline’s shareholders.
Contacted by Lovin Malta yesterday, Vassallo refused to comment about the report, saying only: “Think what you will”, before then hanging up.
In just over two years in Malta, VGH received some €50 million from the government, a figure which raised eyebrows due to the lack of visible investment in the three hospitals. However, Fearne has insisted this money was spent on recurrent costs such as staff salaries and medical equipment which the health department would have forked out with or without the concession.
Just over a year ago, Fearne requested the National Audit Office to investigate the VGH deal, which had been negotiated by his predecessor and current Tourism Minister Konrad Mizzi.