health sector

Madrid gives green light to privatization of six hospitals

PP administration stipulates staff must be retained but concessionaires can fix contract conditions

Madrid's Popular Party regional government on Wednesday took what it described as a definitive step toward privatizing six hospitals under its auspices with a view to creating savings of 143.6 million euros in next year's budget, a 20-percent reduction on 2013's allowance of 718 million.

The six centers — in Vallecas, San Sebastián de los Reyes, Parla, Coslada, Arganda del Rey and Aranjuez — are already semi-privatized and received an annual raise in regional government subsidies in 2010. The new savings will come from the amount of money allotted per patient.

The half-dozen hospitals will go to public tender in May at the latest. The regional government's plan is that concessionaires will present their offers that month, the contracts will be awarded in June and the hospitals will adopt the "Valdemoro model" in September. In 2007, the center became the first specialist center run by a private company under a regional administration concession.

Health sector professionals have a week to present their objections, although the regional government has said it is not willing to alter "the essence" of the contracts.

The successful companies are obliged to take on the entire workforces of the six hospitals and the eight specialist units attached to them; some 5,200 people. Sixty percent of these are temps and although the regional government made the condition that they be retained, it is up to the concessionaires to set the conditions of their contracts. The Madrid authority has already said that "timetable flexibility" is in the offing — longer hours for the same money.

The interested parties will have to display at least four years' experience of managing a hospital. No one company can be awarded more than three of the six concessions and the awards will carry a maximum period of 10 years. Furthermore, concessionaires will have to pay an annual fee to the regional government for the "rental and use of the infrastructure at their disposal," which could rise to a total of 30 million euros.

"The model needs to be consolidated; at this time it is good that the [private] system goes hand-in-hand with direct management, because it helps to improve both," said regional premier Ignacio González. "At the moment it costs us 440 euros per patient at Valdemoro, compared to 600 at a hospital run publicly," González said in an EL PAÍS interview last year.

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