Pharmacists have raised concerns about their ability to continue supplying patients with expensive chemotherapy medication as the Malta Community Chest Fund, which finances some of the treatments, has fallen behind on payments due to a shortage of funding.
Multiple professionals from the industry who spoke to The Shift on condition of anonymity have described how chemotherapy medications supplied to patients sponsored by the MCCF have not been paid for, placing a burden on their own companies that are unable to pay suppliers.
They said the funds due amount to hundreds of thousands of euro.
The pharmacists stressed that such treatments should be done by the government rather than offloaded onto the MCCF.
It is understood that discussions between the Health Ministry and the Minister of Finance Clyde Caruana have led the government to issue assurances to pharmacists that the situation would be solved soon.
The government is expected to fork out €6.5 million to cover the MCCF debts.
MCCF chairman John Huber was criticised for allowing this situation to develop on his watch. Mario Debono, Pharmacies Representative of the Malta Chamber of SMEs, said the MCCF’S mismanagement of funds boiled down to Huber’s “incompetence”.
Huber replaced former MCCF chairperson Marlene Mizzi in October 2021.
When contacted by The Shift, Huber refused to comment: “I am not even allowed to comment. I am the Chair on the board of a charity that administers funds for assistance, and that’s about it”.
The unpaid medications, which can cost some €3,500 to €6,000 per round of treatment, have caused pharmacies and suppliers alike to raise concerns on whether they can continue to supply patients with the vital medication given the debt, with some claiming that suppliers have closed off their accounts due to the debts transferred up the supply chain.
The pharmacists who spoke to The Shift noted that “If we end up in a situation where the government is funding the MCCF for it to fund treatments instead of doing so itself, it’ll be a farce”.
“This is vital medication. Allocating funds to people’s health and treatments should come above some road or infrastructural project,” one pharmacist said.
Maltese cancer patients needing chemotherapy medication are eligible for sponsorship by the MCCF. The patients receive an authorisation from the MCCF, which they present at a pharmacy of their choice, procuring the medicine at no cost. The pharmacy then invoices the MCCF for the amount due.
The system, introduced by ex-President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca, initially limited patients to purchase their medications exclusively from Brown’s pharmacies. It was later expanded to allow patients to choose their pharmacy.