Efforts are ongoing at the highest levels of the Health Ministry and the Foundation for Medical Services (FMS) to ensure that a multi-million euro tender for the procurement of state-of-the-art cancer equipment is diverted to a supplier close to the government.
The Shift can reveal that those involved in awarding the tender for a Magnetic Resource Linear Accelerator (MR LINAC) seem ready to accept a less advanced machine than the most recent available on the market, and to spend an extra €3 million in public funds to build the necessary infrastructure to host the equipment, in order to accommodate the government’s ‘preferred’ supplier.
Medical consultants told The Shift that if this plan goes ahead, the government will spend more money than necessary in order to buy lower quality equipment for treating cancer than what is currently available on the market.
“The real loser in all this will be the patient,” the consultant said.
Buying an MR LINAC
Malta has been given the possibility to invest in the latest cancer-saving equipment through the purchase of an MR LINAC machine as part of the EU-funded Recovery and Resilience plan.
This machine – estimated to cost some €10 million – makes use of two technologies, MRI and a linear accelerator, to locate tumours and treat them with precision.
As part of the procurement process, the Health Ministry issued a preliminary consultation last November to assess the market. This document, which normally precedes the publication of a full tender, specified that the new machine was to be mounted inside an already built bunker at the existing Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Centre (SAMOC) next to Mater Dei, and that it must include the latest technological feature, called an ‘automated gating mechanism’.
Three participants submitted their plans. While two of them matched the requirements, a proposal by one of the government’s closest suppliers includes a machine that would not fit into the already built and available bunker, and that does not have the latest technological features specified in the consultation.
Rush to change the rules
Information seen by The Shift revealed that as soon as those directing the multi-million euro procurement exercise were informed that the machine proposed by the preferred supplier would not fit the necessary requirements, instructions were given to change the specifications of the soon to be published tender in order to accommodate this supplier.
The Shift is reliably informed that plans were redrafted so that the MR LINAC would be housed in a new bunker at a cost of an additional €3 million, rather than house it in the existing unused bunker at SAMOC. This was done at the request of the FMS, led by Minister Fearne’s chief of staff Carmen Ciantar.
Senior FMS and Health officials, Mater Dei CEO Celia Falzon, Health Ministry CEO (Procurement and Supplies) Karl Farrugia, and engineers Chris Attard Montalto and Noel Psaila have been given instructions to insert in the tender the possibility of not requiring the latest ‘automated gating mechanism’ technology so that the government’s ‘preferred’ supplier can still present his machine in a bid for the multi-million euro project.
This same ‘preferred supplier’ has been receiving multi-million euro direct orders for several years, and was part of the tainted Vitals Global Healthcare deal for the takeover of three public hospitals.
Sources at Mater Dei told The Shift that all indications show the FMS and Health officials will be following the ministry’s orders on how the tender specifications are to be issued.
Asked by The Shift to confirm that the construction of a new bunker is planned at SAMOC, while an empty one originally intended for the new MR LINAC will remain unused, the Health Ministry did not reply.
Minister Fearne did not reply to questions about whether the government will specify the latest technology in the tender.