By George Psyllides
THE AUDITOR-GENERAL said on Monday that a transplant agreement between the state and a private doctor did not conform with the terms of the competition and censured the health ministry for handling the case in an irresponsible manner.
Odysseas Michaelides also said that the explanation given by the minister was apparently based on false information.
Minister Philippos Patsalis swiftly ordered all the departments involved to respond in writing to the questions raised by the auditor.
The issue became public just days after the ministry announced a six-month agreement with nephrologist Vasilis Hadjianastasiou as a temporary solution to serve the patients of the Nicosia hospital’s transplant clinic.
Michaelides questioned why the amount per transplant was almost double the established maximum price – €3,650 compared to €2,000.
This, according to Michaelides, meant that Hadjianastasiou would collect €91,250 in six months for 25 transplants, the number included in the terms.
Considering there was a €50,000 limit, the doctor would either provide services for a shorter period of time, or scheduled operations would have to be cancelled, Michaelides said.
The auditor also questioned why the ministry agreed to pay Hadjianastasiou 3,650 euros, when for three Greek doctors it paid a total of €3,300 per transplant and post op treatment and observation.
In a letter to the minister, Michaelides noted that the first documents drawn for the competition spoke of 14 operations per six months – a figure that could not be adequately substantiated, according to the auditor.
The minister told Michaelides afterwards that he expected 16 transplants every six months but the number was changed to 25 so that it would match the €50,000 limit
Michaelides reminded the minister that the terms of a competition were binding “and should not be handled in such a frivolous manner”.
The auditor-general was also told that the €3,300 paid to the three Greek doctors was in fact only for one and that the other two provided their services for free.
“This does not correspond to reality since the payment of the €3,300 was in the form of three separate payments (€1,100 each) into the bank account given by each doctor,” Michaelides said.
He reminded the minister that it was a criminal offence for ministers to knowingly provide false information to the auditor-general and asked him to explain where he got it from.
In a statement, the health minister said he has asked all departments to provide the necessary answers to the auditor’s questions.
He reiterated that the agreement was a temporary solution until the problem at the Nicosia general hospital’s transplant clinic was resolved permanently.
At the same time reports said the doctor in question has asked Michaelides to withdraw a statement suggesting he was profiteering.
The auditor referred the case to the island’s medical association (PIS) after it emerged that he initially asked for €9,000 per transplant but finally settled on €3,650.
Michaelides suggested that the doctor’s stance was a violation of medical ethics. The fact that he later settled for €3,650 could justify censuring him for profiteering, he said.
PIS said it will examine the case though it stressed that based on EU directives, it was not authorised to intervene in setting fees.
The association said it was very difficult to prove “unethical behaviour regarding the medical fee, especially in cases where it is set after negotiations that arrive at a mutually acceptable deal as is the case in question.”
Earlier, the Nicosia-Kyrenia medical association cleared the doctor of any wrongdoing.