Madrid’s Popular Party (PP) regional government on Monday took a U-turn and canceled its planned outsourcing of management and services at six local hospitals – a move that thousands of health professionals had mobilized against.
At the same time, the region’s health chief, Javier Fernández-Lasquetty, who had been pushing the privatization efforts and outsourcing of services, announced he was stepping down from his post.
The developments came just hours after the Madrid regional High Court, which has been studying a lawsuit, denied the regional government’s petition to lift a cautionary injunction it issued last September against the efforts.
“I was the one who proposed this action, and I assume the responsibility for not being able to accomplish it,” said Lasquetty, as he announced his resignation. “This is the best thing for Madrid’s health services.”
Javier Rodríguez Rodríguez, a doctor and current PP health spokesman in the regional assembly, will take over as health commissioner.
The private companies must abide by the ruling that we have made”
“We abide by judicial decisions as we have always done, even though we do not agree, as in this case,” said regional premier Ignacio González at a news conference with Lasquetty.
Lasquetty, who was health commissioner under the previous PP Madrid government of Esperanza Aguirre, will remain as a deputy in the regional parliament.
The embattled Lasquetty came under fire from both opposition Socialists, who filed a lawsuit to stop the outsourcing efforts, and thousands of health workers who faced losing their jobs under the plan.
Last July, the regional government awarded the running of six hospitals – in Vallecas, San Sebastián de los Reyes, Parla, Coslada, Arganda del Rey and Aranjuez – to three private healthcare management groups: Puerto Rico’s Hima-San Pablo and Spanish firms Bupa Sanitas and Ribera Salud. The government had explained that the move was designed to cut costs in Madrid’s inflated budget – by as much as 710 million euros annually – but critics argued that the private operators could begin charging for certain services in the future as well as cut health sector jobs and provide inadequate care.
“We are going to continue introducing efficient cost-saving measures,” said González, who assured there wouldn’t be any cuts to medical services.
The new private managements were to begin in September, but that same month the Madrid regional High Court (TSJM) froze the region’s plans to sell off the hospitals for cautionary reasons after it upheld an earlier ruling by a lower court.
The TSJM said it wanted time to consider the matter, which it noted would leave healthcare in the hands of the private sector for 1.2 million people in the region and affect the careers of 5,000 healthcare workers in an area in which tens of millions of euros are also involved. The court also discovered irregularities in the bidding process for the hospitals.
“The [private] companies must abide by the ruling that we have made,” said González.
Last year, the regional government announced that it was setting aside 53 million euros in its budget for this year to cover “unexpected costs” relating to the outcome of the public hospital controversy.