Just a few months after scraping through the last general election with the solemn promise that public medical services would be “among the best in the world and free” Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi gave the go-ahead to a report for his Cabinet to introduce fees in the primary healthcare system and start charging also for vaccination and screening programmes.
This goes totally contrary to what Gonzi’s government declared in its electoral manifesto and in the address on the occasion of the opening of parliament just over a year ago by President Fenech Adami: “Health is a key element in human development. Mater Dei Hospital will continue to be the pivotal point of the National Health Service, which will carry on providing quality care at no charge.”
Practically everyone will have to register with a private doctor to be referred for care in public hospitals. The policy document prepared for Gonzi’s government states: “Fees shall be determined by the free market and the Government will not intervene to set fees for consultation with a health professional and will not regulate the fee structure as it strongly believes that the free market should establish such fees.”
There will also be full or partial charges for vaccine, screening and other programmes. The policy document admits that the reforms are a radical departure from previous attempts to change the National Health Service as they do away with “the concept of a totally free medical primary healthcare.”
The policy document states: “Previous attempts at reforming the sector were all based, in one way or another, upon the premise that the State would continue to directly offer a family doctor or general practitioner service, thus continuing to sustain the sector, incurring significant costs…”
Just a few months before this report was drawn up and discussed in Cabinet, Dr Gonzi had the cheek during the last general election campaign to sanctimoniously demand an apology from then Labour leader Alfred Sant, who had accused Gonzi of planning to introduce charges in the National Health Service by stealth.
In the midst of the March 2008 campaign and speaking against the backdrop of Mater Dei Hospital, Dr Gonzi repeatedly “insisted that his government never planned to introduce fees or payments for healthcare, and it never would for as long as he was a Prime Minister.”
Dr Sant had also produced a confidential report prepared for Gonzi’s government about the introduction of charges in the National Health Service. Like he did then, Gonzi tried to deny the existence of such a report but when Joseph Muscat showed him a copy he had to admit that it exists. He then tried to wriggle his way out by saying that he was not committed to carrying it out!
An honest person who had given his word that as long as he remains Prime Minister, fees or payments would never be charged for public healthcare would never have given the go-ahead for such a report to be drawn up and discussed in Cabinet, as it is premised on the principle that basic national health services like primary health care, national vaccine and screening programmes would not remain free like before. Working and middle-class families and pensioners who already find it very difficult to make ends meet with a high cost of living, painful water and electricity bills and too many taxes will suffer more if they have to start pay for healthcare.
In last year’s election campaign Gonzi said it was only under the PN that the people could be assured that there would be no charges for health services. He is now going back on his promise. Gonzi has consistently promised one thing and did the exact opposite. He promised bird trappers and hunters they would continue to enjoy their pastime for ever. He promised shipyard workers he had no plans to downsize the shipyards and their job was guaranteed, they would earn more money at the shipyard and pay lower taxes. He did the same thing with GO plc workers and also those who work in the public, private and taxi service. Even nurses, doctors and teachers feel deceived by him.
In this election campaign Gonzi is again doing the rounds, promising heaven on earth or finding excuses for not having kept his promises: like the pathetic attempt to say that he never deceived the bird trappers and hunters as he did his best to protect their pastime but the European Union let him down. Even the gay movement has again been promised that discrimination will be removed against them, when a few weeks ago Deputy Prime Minister Tonio Borg had such an anti-gay outburst in parliament! Gonzi promised green public procurement policies and positive discrimination in favour of those who offer superior environment services and has now accepted that the new power station will be operated on the dirty technology of heavy fuel oil producing 50 tonnes of toxic waste every day.
Gonzi has brought our politics into disrepute by promising one thing and delivering the opposite. In the March 2008 general election the majority of voters showed that they did not trust him and in fact voted for the Partit Laburista and the other small parties. In next Saturday’s local council and European Parliament elections he deserves a bigger majority that shows that he cannot be trusted in running the country.