The contracts relate to supplies for hospitals such as Son Espases. | Pilar Pellicer

The Balearic government is having to review 102,577 supplies of medication and various medical products to hospitals over the past year.

There has been a breakdown in the process of centralised purchasing, and with all the attendant guarantees, because of the sheer number of verbal contracts entered into by hospital administrations. The most recent of these exceptional procedures was initiated by the health service's purchasing department in February; these related to 580 suppliers. There were three others last year, amounting to a common practice that has been warned against by both the Consultative Council (the body that provides legal opinion to public authorities) and the Audit Committee.

The Consultative Council has said that this purchasing practice represents a generalised non-compliance with procedure, which could ultimately mean criminal practice. The control of these hospital supplies lies with other authorities, so the Council has limited itself to noting that a regular system of purchasing doesn't exist and nor are there adequate credit checks. The Council, while not wishing to enter into express evaluation of other circumstances regarding the capacity to make contracts, nevertheless highlights potential infringement of free competition, budgetary legislation and financial sustainability.

However, this isn't opinion that is unanimously shared by members of the Consultative Council. Retrospective legitimisation of these verbal contracts, which is implicit to the government's review, is felt by some members to demonstrate a practice that is generalised and habitual with regard to IB-Salut.

The Council's report draws attention to a structural deficit in respect of the initial budget for IB-Salut each year. This influences the "viability of the necessary contracting procedures". A majority of Council members believe that there is a clear willingness to avoid and reduce the possible extent of irregular purchase contracts, but they argue that the solution to the problem lies with the Balearic parliament and the budget-setting process.

This is not a new situation. Four years ago, the Audit Committee warned that there was an excessive amount of this type of contracting. Verbal arrangements cannot be credited directly, are not legal and do not have assigned financial amounts. Given all this, the Consultative Council is recommending other, legal formulas.

It is also noted that during the state of alarm there were more lax procedures which will require retrospective legitimisation. Urgency demanded these, but the procedures were nevertheless symptomatic of what was "the old normal".