By Angelos Anastasiou
HEALTH minister Philippos Patsalis has requested the three-month suspension of Christiana Kontemeniotou, head of the pharmaceutical services department, pending the outcome of a disciplinary probe against her in relation to a case of allegedly inflating drugs prices from 2009 to 2012.
The daily Politis reported that an investigation had been initiated by Patsalis as a result of the Auditor general Odysseas Michaelides’s reports that concluded millions had been squandered in recent years because the drugs-pricing committee had falsely used Greece as the “least expensive” country in its price benchmarking. It was later revealed that the benchmarking took place at a time when prices in Greece were quite expensive, and failed to incorporate subsequent drops in the price of drugs in Greece into the Cyprus pricing model.
The investigation had found that two former Health ministers, Stavros Malas and Christos Patsalides, the former director of the Pharmaceutical Services department Pantelitsa Koupepidou – who chaired the drugs-pricing committee at the time – and Kontemeniotou, then the department official responsible for monitoring drugs prices in base countries, were to blame for the inflated pricing.
But as Malas and Patsalides are no longer in the public sector following the expiry of their term, and Koupepidou retired in 2011, Kontemeniotou was the only official left that Patsalis had the power to investigate. The Attorney general’s office was asked to advise on what action – if any – could be taken against the rest.
In a letter dated July 2, Patsalis informed the Public Service Commission that he had launched a disciplinary probe against Kontemeniotou, and asked the PSC to approve her suspension for three months, on the grounds of non-compliance with specific articles of public service law. Some of the articles cited by Patsalis suggest possible malice in her actions or omissions.
In his letter, Patsalis asked for Kontemeniotou’s suspension, claiming that her “failure to properly monitor drug prices lead to the tax payer be burdened with an added cost of €24.4m.”
The commission attempted to notify Kontemeniotou but was unable to reach her as she is abroad. Instead, the letter was passed to her lawyer.
The initial investigation was hotly contested by all accused parties, most vocally by Malas, who charged that he was in fact the one who brought drugs prices down, and accused the government of attempting to victimise him for political gain.
On Tuesday, the pharmacists’ association issued a statement challenging the investigation’s findings, claiming to have submitted pertinent evidence to the Auditor general which was ignored. The pharmacists also lambasted the leaking of the investigation’s findings, which they said included errors and false assumptions.
Kontemeniotou has 14 days to appeal the minister’s call for her suspension.
The investigation by an independent public official was carried out over five weeks by Dimos Antoniou, a senior engineer at the Water Department, who concluded that the two ministers failed to intervene by ministerial decree, and the two ministry officials failed to carry out their duties as mandated by law.