Health Minister Michalis Hadjipantela on Sunday defended expenditure by his ministry after a public spat with the health insurance organisation (HIO) from whom it is claiming back €120 million for using non-Gesy facilities and branded medicines.

Hadjipantela said his ministry’s procedures as regards these referrals have been checked by both the state’s internal auditor and by the auditor-general several times without any problems.

“Our goal is to serve patients and find solutions where solutions may not be provided by the system at this particular moment,” he said. “Issues of health and human life are not open to frivolous judgments and petty political expediencies”.

Hadjipantela said the ministry would shortly issue a full accounting of its procedures that would justify its actions. “Procedures are always followed,” he added.

“The problems that exist in the health system must be resolved through dialogue and not through publications in the press,” he added.

In a separate announcement issued shortly afterwards, the ministry said it had submitted its estimated 2023 budget to the finance ministry based on actual expenses for the previous year.

It included provisions of €18 million for subsidising the treatment of patients sent to the private sector in Cyprus, €25 million for sending patients abroad and €80 million for medicines approved by the Nominal Claims Committee.

This latest Gesy crisis was sparked by a row between HIO chairman Thomas Antoniou and the health ministry after the latter asked the HIO for €120 million to cover the cost of sending some patients to non-Gesy hospitals both in Cyprus and abroad, and for branded medicines, but the HIO found the request unjustified. It accused the ministry of endangering the HIO budget.

Antoniou stated in an August 3 letter, published by Phileleftheros on Friday, that the health ministry “has exceeded the limit of legality” by calling on the organisation to hand over €120 million, adding that the ministry “cannot spend as it pleases”.

The ministry insists it was necessary to send some patients to private hospitals outside Gesy, and abroad, in order to save lives in incidences where Gesy hospitals did not have beds, or where it could not provide the necessary treatment.

The finance ministry later waded into the spat, accusing the Gesy operator of taking the health system to the brink of collapse.

A statement from the finance ministry described as “worrying” the fact that the HIO had managed “in a very short period of time” to bloat national health expenditure by around 50 per cent, shaking the system to the core.

In a separate development Antoniou, who has placed his resignation at the disposal of the president, is being investigated for a possible conflict of interest related to his wife being a Gesy provider since December 2020. Other members of the HIO board are also being investigated for conflict of interest.