By Constantinos Psillides
Health Minister Philippos Patsalis on Wednesday pledged to investigate charges by the auditor-general that millions have been squandered on drug purchases and doctors’ overtime pay, while misconduct has been covered up.
Patsalis assured the public that no wrongdoing will be tolerated when it comes to misconduct by ministry employees, adding that he has ordered a number of probes since his appointment and he intends to see them through.
Patsalis promised that nothing will be swept under the rug.
“There will be no probe for the sake of a probe. I ordered seven probes since I was appointed and I intend to see them all through,” he said. “I have also asked for a list of pending probes so that we can monitor their progress better. The Health Ministry will be very strict in its evaluation.”
The most important of those cases is the one dealing with drugs prices and the role of the Pharmaceutical Services.
Drug pricing is calculated by taking into consideration the country with the highest price, the one with the lowest and two countries in between.
Drug prices have been considerably higher since 2009, DIKO MP Giorgos Prokopiou said on Tuesday, after the House Watchdog Committee discussed the matter.
This was because the drug pricing committee has been using Greece as the country with the lowest prices “despite the fact that Greece is ranked third highest in the EU when it comes to drugs prices.”
Auditor-general Odysseas Michaelides explained that while Greece indeed had low drug prices in the past, that changed in 2009.
“But the drug pricing committee failed to update their formula, resulting in high drug prices,” Michaelides said.
However, what was more worrisome, he added, was that the former head of Pharmaceutical Services tried to remove a recommendation by the committee to the auditor general that prices had to be reviewed, thus acknowledging there was a problem.
“This is considered a cover-up. They tried to avoid responsibility and for us that is unacceptable.”
Former Health Minister Costas Petrides said in November last year that Cypriots pay three times as much for some drugs.
“The supplier in some cases is the same. It doesn’t make sense for us to pay so much more to buy what hospitals need,” Petrides had said.
Drug prices are also driven up by pharmacists, since they are guaranteed a 27-30 per cent profit on each drug.
Apart from the drugs prices, Patsalis is examining whether or not he can reopen two other cases, one concerning state doctors’ overtime pay, and one regarding the purchase of an MRI machine by the Nicosia general hospital.
The first case was closed by the previous government, following the suggestion of former attorney-general Petros Clerides.
Stavros Malas, who was health minister during the previous administration, said that changing the rules regarding overtime benefited the public in the long run, since it put an end to referring patients to private hospitals and abroad.
Malas said the case was closed because the police could not investigate the problem effectively and the AG’s office concluded that excessive overtime pay is a matter that concerned the entire public sector and not just doctors.
But according to Michaelides, the AG did not say the case should be closed, but he left it to the discretion of the minister.
“When they first started investigating the case, there were reports suggesting disciplinary action should be taken. Instead, the cabinet decided to let the matter go. Again, this is unacceptable and we demand the case be reopened,” Michaelides said.
The case of the MRI purchase was closed after the suggestion of the former AG who concluded that allegations of shady practises concerning the order could not be substantiated.
Both Malas and Petrides signed-off on closing the case.
“The auditor general requested that both those cases are reopened and re-examined. What we are looking at is whether we can do that, from a legal perspective since the Attorney General’s office declared both cases closed,” said Patsalis, adding that every probe ordered by his ministry will be presented to the House Watchdog Committee to ensure transparency.