Slovakia’s health care sector is being privatised on the quiet in a process overseen by the governing Smer party, the opposition Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party said on March 13.
The financial group Penta has acquired control of over 12 hospitals since 2006, claimed SaS chair Richard Sulík.
“This has been thanks to Smer members,” he added, as quoted by the TASR newswire, and denounced what he called the “kidnapping of the Slovak health care sector”.
The year 2006 is no coincidence, according to SaS, as it was in that year that both Smer chairman and Prime Minister Robert Fico and Penta co-owner Jaroslav Haščák reportedly visited an apartment on Vazovova Street in Bratislava that was mentioned in the notorious Gorilla file.
“Prior to 2006, this financial group controlled only one hospital,” said SaS MP Jozef Rajtár, as quoted by TASR.
Penta, however, has deflected these accusations, viewing them as “a senseless attack against one of the few things in the Slovak health care sector that is positive and actually works”. The group’s investments in the hospitals constitute a commitment over the long haul to “radically improve the function and quality of health care”, the company claimed, as reported by TASR.
Smer responded by calling the SaS claims outrageous.
“It’s disgusting on the part of SaS to implicate Smer with Penta’s business activities in the health care sector,” said party’s spokesperson Ľubica Končalová, as quoted by TASR. “It is this very party (SaS) that employs Rudolf Zajac, who made it possible, surreptitiously as health minister, for Penta to enter the health care sector.”
Suggesting a conflict of interests
SaS MP Lucia Ďuriš Nicholsonová meanwhile criticised the fact that in addition to the hospitals, Penta also owns the private health insurer Dôvera, over 240 pharmacies, several clinics and several rescue service stations.
“This is an enormous conflict of interest,” said Ďuriš Nicholsonová, as quoted by TASR, and urged Health Minister Tomáš Drucker (a Smer nominee) to address the situation.
The MP is unaware of “anything similar occurring in another EU member country”, as reported by TASR.
SaS singled out the recent takeover by Penta of the hospital in Topoľčany (Nitra Region), a move that was okayed by the Antimonopoly Office. Penta pays an annual rent of €100,000, which the party regards as being out of keeping with the hospital's annual profits of more than €1 million.
“It is outright misleading and borders on lying to compare the profits of individual hospitals and rentals in a situation when our investments in hospitals are reaching tens of millions of euros,” said Gabriel Tóth, spokesperson of Penta Investments, as quoted by TASR.
The group plans to invest €9.7 million in the hospital in Topoľčany in the next few years. Penta has to date spent over €75 million on hospitals that it has acquired, said Tóth, urging SaS to direct its attention to the “enormous ineffectiveness in state-owned hospitals” instead, as reported by TASR.
Disclaimer: The Penta financial group has a 45-percent ownership share in Petit Press, a co-owner of The Slovak Spectator.