Ian Ellul

or so was declared by the Hon. Minister of Finance Prof. Edward Scicluna during the speech relating to the Malta Budget 2017. For this editorial, we shall place it within the context of another well-known quote, attributed to Publius Vergilius Maro, commonly known as Virgil, one of the greatest Roman poets … “the greatest wealth is health” …


First of all, it should be kept in mind that the proposed expenditure for health in 2017 is set to be €517 million, representing 13% of the total budget. The following is a summary of the budget proposals for 2017:


  • A project relating to a hospital specialising in the treatment of mothers and children is set to kick-start.


  • Additional anti-diabetic medicines will be introduced in the government formulary [although this was also pledged in the Malta Budget 2016, it is unsure whether new anti-diabetic medicines were introduced in the government formulary during 2016]. An unspecified amount of glucose sticks will also be given for free to Type 1 and 2 diabetes patients.


  • Diabetic patients who have the schedule V card [yellow paper] will benefit from free dental care, subsidies on reading glasses and free access to antibiotics. This would address the abrupt removal of such benefits by the previous administration.


  • A public consultation will be carried out on the feasibility of workers using their sick leave to care for their sick children [this was actually a 2013 electoral pledge of the current administration].


  • Special medical paid leave over and above statutory sick leave will be introduced for employees diagnosed with cancer and undergoing treatment. In addition, Edward Scicluna stated that more anti-cancer medicines will be added to the government formulary.


  • A reform in the schedule V card [pink card] medicinal entitlement is also being proposed.


  • A regional hub offering primary health services is planned to be established at the former Pace Grasso ground in Paola [this was also pledged in the Malta Budget 2016].


  • A plan on how to employ a public-private partnership model for the upgrading of Mount Carmel Hospital and the building of a new hospital for acute psychiatric care will be launched next year.


If we talk the talk and walk the walk, this would translate into a positive budget.


However, at this stage it is also important to note the unprecedented drive by the government to develop public–private partnerships within the health sector. Although initially floated by the Nationalist party through the devolvement of operations to the private sector, the current administration has further expanded such public–private partnerships to also include foreign participation and investment in the running of state hospitals [as well as in the provision of education pertaining to medicine]. More specifically, I am referring to the public–private partnerships relating to Karen Grech Hospital, St Luke’s Hospital and Gozo General Hospital between the Maltese government and Vitalis Global Healthcare [VGH]. The concession of these three hospitals to VGH is for 30 years and under the agreement reached earlier on this year, the government will buy a number of beds to be used by the public healthcare service from VGH. It has been reported that this will cost the government at least €55 million annually for medical services that are currently offered through the national health service. I sincerely hope that the public–private partnerships which are being implemented, as well as those still in the pipeline, will actually pay off in order for them to translate into “Wealth shall reach everyone”.