Leaked document alleges health ministry to lead medical procurement, risking its independence
The Ministry of Health is planning to roll back critical medical reforms, according to a document published by the Bihus.info investigative journalism project on Oct. 20.
The document — a copy of an alleged resolution drafted by the Cabinet of Ministers — would allow the ministry control all medical procurement, instead of the state company Medical Procurements of Ukraine. Meanwhile, if any problems arise, the state company would have to take the heat for the ministry’s decisions.
Medical Procurements was created to buy drugs and medical supplies independently at the best possible prices. It was meant to keep medical spending transparent, out of the hands of corrupt officials and the private interests that control them.
The draft resolution would change who’s in charge of setting technical standards for medical goods. Right now, standards are determined by whoever is buying them for Ukraine through tenders. That means Medical Procurements and several international organizations.
If the resolution is approved, the ministry will have the exclusive power to set the technical standards before tenders are launched.
This is risky. Suppliers might make corrupt deals with medical officials. The ministry could then word the standards in such a way as to exclude that supplier’s competitors.
“It violates the logic of the reform, where the health ministry is the policy maker and MPU is the one executing the procurement, like the principle of checks and balances,” the state company wrote in an email.
A spokeswoman for the ministry said that she couldn’t comment because the resolution wasn’t approved. She also dismissed the document as social media rumors spreading as the country readies for local elections on Oct. 25.
The decree also fails to explain what to do when the Anti-Monopoly Committee intervenes in a tender. If the Committee flags a tender as uncompetitive, Medical Procurements will have to deal with it, even though it would be working under orders from the health ministry.
Also, since the health ministry will have final say over everything, any changes to the tender will have to be approved at the ministry level. This can introduce procurement delays, which can leave at-risk populations without critical drugs or equipment.
“The state will buy drugs only from manufacturers that are manually selected by the Ministry of Health,” lawmaker Olga Stefanishyna, who is also a former deputy health minister, wrote on Facebook. “This means outright corruption, violation of the law on public procurement and significant procurement delays.”
The health ministry has been interfering in the work of Medical Procurements since the start of the year.
Ukraine’s medical procurement system has traditionally been infested with corruption. To fight it, the country let international organizations buy its medicines in 2015.
Medical Procurements was supposed to be the international organizations’ successor. In February 2020, it was put in charge of 14 out of 38 medical procurement categories.
But former Health Minister Ilya Yemets stalled the company’s work and tried to place his own man in charge of the company. Less than a month later, Maksym Stepanov replaced Yemets, but procurement remained stalled for many more months, raising the possibility of critical drug shortages.
The ministry under Stepanov kept interfering in Medical Procurements’s work. When the company tried to buy 90,000 protective suits for doctors fighting COVID-19, the ministry stopped it and ordered 71,340 suits from China at almost twice the cost.
The suits arrived with significant delays, despite the ministry paying in advance for over half of the order. The acquisition went through an obscure, new Ukrainian wholesaler that had never worked on an order that large before.
Anti-corruption watchdogs believe that too many billions of hryvnias are at stake for corrupt officials and private interests to allow Medical Procurements to remain independent and functional.
Staff writer Yana Mokhonchuk contributed reporting to this story.