Former Spanish Health Minister in the spotlight again

Politics - January 13, 2023

The Provincial Court of Madrid has ordered the reopening of the criminal investigation against former Minister Salvador Illa for the supply of two million defective masks to doctors during the first wave of the covid-19 pandemic.

Fake masks for health workers in the middle of the pandemic

The judges of the Provincial Court of Madrid have upheld the appeal of the State Confederation of Medical Unions (CESM) and have allowed the judge to initiate a criminal investigation.

In addition, the court is ordered to request information from the Carlos III Health Institute and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health on the analysis of these masks acquired by the Health Department during the beginning of the pandemic. According to the CESM there are indications to investigate that these false masks were supplied to health workers in hospitals in the Valencian Community.

The CESM, in its appeal, charged the former minister with a crime against workers’ rights for having provided a batch of two million FFP2 N95 masks. Their filtering level was lower than the minimum 92% required by health regulations. In fact, it barely reached 70%. According to the medical union, these masks were used by the health workers during the first two weeks of April and could have put all the staff at risk.

Consequence of incoherent management

The Spanish government’s management of the health crisis was incoherent from start to finish. Although Spaniards today have other concerns, the unease caused by the arbitrary nature of the measures approved by the government was widespread. The fact that Salvador Illa left his post in January 2021 to take advantage of his media projection in the elections for the presidency of the Generalitat of Catalonia on February 14, 2021, helped the oblivion.

His departure from the Ministry of Health has not prevented the continuation of investigations into alleged irregularities committed during his management of the pandemic. With this decision, Justice does not intend to criminalize the pandemic. On the contrary, they are trying to clarify whether, with the purchase of millions of non-approved masks from a Chinese company, the former minister and other health officials have committed an offence against the rights of health sector workers by failing to protect them.

An inappropriate minister at an important moment

Salvador Illa was chosen by Pedro Sánchez to head the Spanish government’s health portfolio. Although he is a philosopher by training and has a notable track record in regional politics in Catalonia, he was not a particularly technical candidate to take on the Ministry of Health. The opposition criticized that Sánchez’s decision was, in fact, politically motivated by the Socialist Party of Catalonia (PSC).

Illa took office in January 2020, two months before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. What a priori was posed as an affordable management position with few political ups and downs compared to other ministries, soon became the focus of all the media attention. Time proved the opposition right. Illa won the Catalan elections thanks to the projection that the pro-government media made of his figure. However, he has not become president of the Generalitat, as it is still in the hands of the pro-independence supporters, in turn partners of the central government.