In a 30-minute speech before the newly-elected People's Assembly today, Minister of Health Hatem El-Gabaly emphasised that the government is keen not to reduce spending on free medical services in public hospitals or privatize public hospitals by turning them into investment hospitals.
Responding to 12 information requests and six questions submitted by MPs, El-Gabaly stressed that free medical service in public hospitals will remain in effect and that state-funded medical treatment will never be phased out.
“The government spent LE11.7 billion on medical treatment of poor citizens in the last five years and out of this amount it spent LE1.4 billion in last year (2009/2010) alone,” explained El-Gabaly.
El-Gabaly argued that in the current budget of 2010/2011, the government has set aside LE2.5 billion for funding medical treatment and that this is proof that strongly refutes allegations that the government does not care about the health of poor citizens.
El-Gabaly also denied that the government aims to demolish the building of Cairo's psychiatric hospital in Abbassia and sell its land and gardens to rich businessmen. "This is a big joke and it reminds me of [Arab comic figure] Goha who used to spread lies and then believe in them,” said El-Gabaly. He indicated that the government is in the process of building three psychiatric hospitals because "[Egypt] is in desperate need for such hospitals.”
El-Gabaly, however, faced sharp attacks from Zakaria Azmi, the ruling NDP's heavyweight official and chief of presidential staff, who claimed that “it is El-Gabaly's right to upgrade public hospitals but not at the expense of the poor.”
Azmi asserted that the government is attempting to privatise public hospitals, even though President Mubarak, in his speech before the joint session of the People's Assembly and Shura Council on 19 December, urged citizens not to believe rumours alleging that public hospitals will be turned into costly investment hospitals.
Azmi also indicated that El-Gabaly, originally a businessman, adopted a new policy which compels citizens to pay for medical treatment in the afternoon hours. In response, El-Gabaly said that “the government does not violate of President Hosni Mubarak's instructions.” El-Gabaly also stressed that the policies of the Ministry of Health are clear and that directors of hospitals should not charge citizens either in the morning or the afternoon hours.