Wednesday 18 October 2017

Harris in bid to get private patients off public wards

Health Minister Simon Harris. Picture: Mark Condren
Health Minister Simon Harris. Picture: Mark Condren
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Health Minister Simon Harris is to examine whether private patients can be removed from public hospitals.

The minister is expected to tell health managers today that it is "hard to defend" having private practice continuing "unquestioned" in a public hospital when there is a trolley crisis and rising public waiting lists.

Private patients bring around €600m in income to public hospitals annually and removing them would have major implications for care as well as the lucrative private income of top consultants.

The minister, who is to address the Health Management Institute of Ireland in Dublin's RDS today, is expected to refer to the Sláintecare report, the Oireachtas committee's cross-party blueprint for reform of the health service, which calls for the end of private practice in public hospitals.

The minister is expected to say that the committee acknowledges that it would take time to change this system, and there would be a very considerable price tag attached.

The committee also calls for an impact study to be done before this recommendation is implemented.

"Decoupling private from public practice is far from simple, but it certainly is worth considering and I am committed to this impact study as a first step," the minister will tell delegates.

Mr Harris is also set to indicate that some hospitals may be overhauled so that they only treat those patients languishing on waiting lists.

It would mean a hospital would be designated to take patients from hospitals within its group.

The move is being looked at in a bid to reduce hospital waiting lists, which have now spiralled to a record 690,000 people.

Patients who are on a waiting list in one hospital could then end up being treated in another.

The minister is to create a Sláintecare Programme Office to drive forward the reform programme and a lead executive is currently being recruited.

He will shortly receive a report that looks at where the health system needs beds, not just in hospitals but also in the community.

The minister is to tell health managers that there are few areas of our national life as complex as health, and complex problems are not solved by simplistic solutions.

"What we need instead is an approach which recognises the healthcare system is made up of many parts.

"The challenge in the next few months is not to see who can shout loudest, but how collectively we can come together around a vision of a better future in which all of us have a role to play."

Last week it was revealed that public hospitals are now cancelling around 3,400 planned surgeries every month, adding to the waiting list backlog.

Among the reasons for the cancellations are the on-going trolley crisis, lack of staff and infection control.

Irish Independent

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