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PRIVATE INTERESTS IN PUBLIC HEALTH

Former Madrid health chief steps down over contract row

Onetime PP official Juan José Güemes denies any conflict of interest in Unilabs privatization deal

The former health commissioner for the Madrid region, Juan José Güemes, on Tuesday announced he was stepping down from his post as a board member of Unilabs España. It emerged last Friday that Güemes, who served on the Popular Party (PP) regional government between 2008 and 2010, had overseen the privatization of medical analysis services at six Madrid hospitals in 2009. The contract was awarded to UTE BR Salud, which was purchased by Unilabs last November, five months after Güemes had become a paid advisor at the company.

Güemes declined to comment when asked by EL PAÍS whether a conflict of interest had occurred, but PP regional premier Ignacio González defended his former colleague, stating that two years was sufficient time for a former public official to refrain from working in the private arm of a sector they had represented in government.

On Tuesday, Güemes told reporters that his decision had been based on “having lost a little freedom to defend” his ideals and his “profound convictions in support of public-private cooperation.”

“I believe I have gone about my work, not only strictly respecting legality, but also from the point of view of ethics and as some people say, esthetics,” Güemes said, adding that he would continue to defend what he believes in but “not from politics, but from society.” Güemes also said that Unilabs had had “no relationship” with the regional government of Madrid because the latter “never contracted any services.”

“Under no circumstances can it be interpreted that there was any favorable treatment because the company presented its bid in a public tender, concretely for the management of a laboratory, and it lost,” Güemes added, although he did concede that the company that won the tender was subsequently acquired by Unilabs.

“It was a personal decision,” a Unilabs spokesman said of Güemes’ resignation on Tuesday. “He informed the board shortly before the media. We are saddened by the decision but we will support him and we maintain the stance we adopted the other day. He did not want his presence to be damaging in any way to Unilabs in future operations.”

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