The government agreed to pay more money to secure the patient transfer service, it has emerged.
A three-year deal worth £1.6 million was signed in September last year to operate the vital service between Ronaldsway and Liverpool.
Shortly after, fears were raised about the future of the service when Flybe announced it was closing its base at Ronaldsway –with the loss of 49 jobs – from the end of March.
Flybe bosses informed the Department of Health in December it intended to close the Liverpool route, and only retain the Manchester route for passengers and patients travelling to the North-West of England.
It wasn’t until January that Flybe confirmed the patient transfer service had been secured, agreeing to stable an aircraft overnight in order to operate the route three times a weekday.
But this week, under questioning from Douglas West MHK Chris Thomas in the House of Keys, it emerged that the government had re-negotiated the financial arrangement in order to secure the service.
Health Minister Howard Quayle said he was unable to disclose the terms of the financial arrangement as they are subject to ‘a contractual confidentiality and non-disclosure clause’.
Mr Thomas asked Mr Quayle: ‘Was it the Minister’s intention or was it Government’s intention to inform this House about this subsidy, because I can remember denials of any subsidy fairly recently in this House and in the other place.’
The Minister replied: ‘I am somewhat surprised by the member’s comments on subsidy. We have a contract that was tendered.
‘Within a short period of time of that contract being awarded to Flybe, we were advised that they were going to pull out of that route.
‘As a result of no longer flying that route and the change to their business, there were extra costs if we wanted to keep that route going.
‘We either accepted that or we looked at other ways of getting our patients to the various hospitals.’
He added: ‘We had to consider the cost in pounds, shillings and pence to the taxpayer – this was the cheapest way of doing it, and the impact, more importantly, on our patients of having to get to the hospital, and this gives our patients the best transfer that they can experience possible.’
The Minister said: ‘The loss of the Liverpool route would have had several negative effects in that the increased cost in air fares of flying to the nearest local airport in the North-West, this being Manchester, would be far in excess of the amount that has been re-negotiated.
‘In addition to the increased cost of flying to Manchester, the impact upon patients in terms of extra travelling time, the risk of missed appointments and cost of travelling to their appointments from Manchester meant that the retention of the Liverpool route was the only real viable option for the department and our patients.’
Mr Thomas asked whether World Bank rules meant the service should have been retendered ‘because other airlines could perhaps take advantage of that service with this new information about the subsidy’.
Onchan MHK Peter Karran (Liberal Vannin) said it was ‘another glaring example, as far as government is concerned, of its patronage and its fiefdom as far as not allowing a situation where you have open contracts, open tenders, where change the tenders after the situation’.
Mr Quayle said: ‘From a retendering point of view, this was only two months after the contract had been awarded, so it was a very short period of time.
‘We did, as a department, have full Treasury concurrence that it would be a pointless exercise retendering on a contract that just needed to be altered.’