FRANKFURT Germany's state of Hesse said on Friday it was preparing to file a suit against Rhoen-Klinikum if the hospitals operator fails to meet a deadline to start offering particle therapy at its Giessen-Marburg hospital.
Rhoen-Klinikum bought the hospital in central Germany from the state in 2006 and at the time promised to invest in particle therapy, a method for fighting cancer in which protons or charged ions are fired at tumors while sparing surrounding healthy tissue.
It teamed up with engineering group Siemens to set up the facility but the companies eventually found that the equipment could not be used for the kind of continuous operation needed to make it pay off financially.
Siemens bought back the equipment from Rhoen and pulled out of the project, saying it had been too ambitious in offering the new technology for general patient treatment.
Rhoen-Klinikum had promised less than a year ago that it would start operating the particle therapy facility by the end of 2013. If it misses that deadline, the state could tell it to repay the 107 million euros ($146.5 million) the state had given Rhoen in 2006 to invest in particle therapy.
Rhoen is in talks to operate the facility jointly with the university hospital of Heidelberg, which has a similar particle therapy equipment, though it is not clear when these negotiations may be completed.
"We are in intensive and constructive talks with Heidelberg university," a spokesman for Rhoen-Klinikum said. "We hope that the talks will lead to a good and sustainable result."
Hesse's science ministry said in a statement it would file a suit against Rhoen-Klinikum no later than March 1 to safeguard its interests unless the particle therapy facility started operating by then.
It said it still saw hope that its planned legal move could be averted if talks between Rhoen and Heidelberg university were successful.
($1 = 0.7303 euros)
(Reporting by Andreas Kroener and Maria Sheahan. Editing by Jane Merriman)