The opening of Paola’s new medical services hub, otherwise known as the Paola Hub, has been postponed yet again, with a new date set for 2024, seven years after the permit was issued in 2017.
Work at the Paola Hub started in 2017 with support from Health Minister Chris Fearne, as it falls under the remit of his ministry and also in his electoral district. While he said works on the project are now in the final stage, and it will be opening its doors “by the first quarter of next year”, this is the third different date he has put forward.
In June 2021, Fearne announced during an onsite press conference that the “Hospital for the South” will be up and running by April 2022. But as the deadline passed, the minister declared in November of the same year that it would be up and running by May 2023.
Some six months after that deadline expired, it appears the deadline has been pushed forward again. Fearne told Nationalist Party MP Ian Vassallo, in response to a parliamentary question, that the hospital will now open by March 2024.
According to Godfrey Farrugia, Labour’s first health minister when it took power in 2013, the project had already been decided during the government’s first year in power, meaning 11 years will have passed from when the promise was made to when it was completed.
In 2018, Fearne had told Farrugia, through another parliamentary question, that the project was expected to cost €33 million, 80% of which came from European Union funds.
Farrugia was removed from his position in 2014, just before the government started negotiations on privatising three state hospitals to Vitals Global Healthcare. He was replaced by disgraced former minister Konrad Mizzi, with Chris Fearne as his parliamentary secretary.
According to the latest information, the project’s cost is expected to reach €40 million by the time of its completion, some €7 million over budget.
The Paola Hub project is being coordinated by the Foundation for Medical Services (FMS), headed by Fearne’s campaign manager and former chief of staff, Carmen Ciantar.
When completed, the mini hospital is expected to handle some 140,000 patients a year from the south, releasing pressure from Mater Dei Hospital. It will also operate an emergency and daycare centre and will have facilities where minor operations can be carried out.
Another FMS project, a new health centre in Gozo’s Victoria, which was supposed to open in 2019, is running both behind schedule and over budget.