By Evie Andreou
AN investigation into alleged irregularities over operations carried out by a private sector paediatric surgeon for the state-run Makarios III Hospital in Nicosia has been submitted to the attorney-general, Health Minister Philippos Patsalis confirmed on Saturday.
According to the report, the executive director of the Makarios hospital, Dr Petros Matsas, and four other staff members are under investigation for allegedly misusing the services of the private doctor, Dr Zacharias Zachariou. Between 2012 and last September he reportedly performed 156 operations and 60 examinations for which he charged more than €420,000.
The case is one of three very important probes the health ministry had launched to investigate possible irregularities, Patsalis told the Sunday Mail.
The other two concern overtime pay of a doctor at the Limassol state hospital, and alleged misconduct over the purchase of a magnetic-resonance imaging (MRI) scanner at the Nicosia General Hospital.
Patsalis said that the one concerning the Limassol doctor was dismissed but the other two warranted further investigation for possible disciplinary and criminal offences and had been delivered to the attorney-general’s office.
“The government must clamp down on corruption, and where there is suspicion of administrative and criminal offences, investigations must take place so that responsibilities are attributed to those at fault and justice is restored to those discredited,” Patsalis said.
The investigation into the services of Zachariou follow an agreement between the ministry of health and the doctor in 2012 for him to treat patients at the hospital to reduce the number of children being sent abroad for operations. The investigation is looking into whether some of the calls for his services were unnecessary and irregular.
The report suggests that Matsas’ initiative to form a committee to approve calls for specialists for special operations was irregular and a possible criminal offence since it bypassed the committee responsible for making such decisions.
It is alleged the doctor was also called to perform routine surgeries which could have been carried out by other doctors at the hospital and which were much cheaper in the private sector. The doctor was reportedly being paid between €2,500 and €8,000 per operation.
According to the report, the agreement signed between the doctor and the health ministry did not follow the provisions of the law on public procurements, and that all calls made to Zachariou were made orally, bypassing standard procedures.
Reportedly the ministry did not pre-approve the calls made to the doctor.
In the period between March and September 2013 when the first agreement had expired and the second had not yet been ratified, he was allegedly called five times and performed operations and examinations worth €88,000.
The head of the paediatric surgery clinic Dr Costas Hadjicostis, hospital resident doctor Andreas Neophytou, former general manager of the health ministry Dionysis Mavronicolas, and former head of the subsidised patients’ department Sofia Costa are also under investigation.
The second probe, concerning the irregular purchase of a MRI scanner at the Nicosia General Hospital, had been closed by former Health Minister Petros Petrides but re-launched in June 2014 by his successor, Patsalis, concluded that several high-ranking public officials may have been involved in efforts to cover up the issue.
The issue that arose in 2009, concerns breach of contract signed between the hospital and a private company that supplied the MRI scanner. According to the contract, the company was obliged to supply training for hospital staff by an accredited university on the use of MRI machine. Failure to do so would result in the government calling in a £181,125 (approximately €280,000) bank guarantee, which expired on October 4, 2009.
But, although no proof of university-level training was ever produced by the company, the guarantee was left to expire with no action taken by the contract coordinator.