Doctor alleges conflict of interest in IVF consultant selection process
Successful applicants both work for specialist who helped pick them
The Public Service Commission and the Health Ministry are being challenged in court over what is claimed to be a “vitiated” selection process for an IVF consultant at Mater Dei Hospital.
In a case instituted by Johann Craus, it has emerged that two doctors placed at the top of the list by a government-appointed selection board work at a private clinic owned by Mark Sant – who was one of the members of the selection board. Dr Sant is an IVF specialist at Mater Dei Hospital.
This is a “textbook case of conflict of interest”, industrial law specialist Ian Spiteri Bailey, who represents Dr Craus, is arguing. The call to appoint a consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology, with a special interest in assisted reproduction technology, was issued last year. The selection board was chaired by Prof. Yves Muscat Baron and included Dr Sant as a Health Ministry appointee.
After interviews were held with the applicants, the board placed Max Dingli and Olivianne Cassar in the first two places, followed by Dr Craus. The two first-place doctors form part of Veduta Clinic, a private clinic owned by Dr Sant. The court was told that at no stage of the selection process did Dr Sant declare this clear conflict of interest.
Dr Sant knew the two doctors he was interviewing very well – to the extent that he worked with them every day in his private clinic.
Dr Craus highlighted the issue to the Public Service Commission – which is meant to ensure transparency and merit-based appointments – but the PSC justified the process.
“The Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology is a relatively small department”, the PSC said. Potential conflicts of interest in Malta are almost inevitable, as “there are a number of private clinics where professionals related to the same speciality work in the same clinic or hospital”.
Dr Craus has asked the court to order a reassessment of the specialist selection.
He is also claiming that other rules related to the selection method were not followed.
The court has provisionally upheld Dr Craus’s request for a prohibitory injunction against the PSC and the Health Ministry until further proceedings are held.
In a decree of the 18th July 2018, the Court decided that there were no grounds to uphold the warrant, although it did state that the PSC was obliged to abide by the rules of natural justice throughout proceedings before it. It also stated that Dr Craus’s objections were legally valid and that at face value, his rights were being prejudiced. It failed to uphold the warrant because Dr Craus had other remedies at law which he could exercise to safeguard his rights at law, which were evidently being breached.
Dr Cruas was represented by Dr Ian Spiteri Bailey.