Sunday 24 September 2017

Private practice at St Vincent's faces HSE audit

St Vincent’s Hospital grounds. Photo: PA
St Vincent’s Hospital grounds. Photo: PA
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

The HSE is sending in independent auditors to St Vincent's public hospital to probe the extent of its doctors' private practice.

It suspects many of its public consultants are working in the adjacent private hospital when they have no right to do so under their contracts.

The plan will not help the tense relations between St Vincent's Healthcare Group and the HSE.

It comes as Health Minister Simon Harris begins fresh talks to try to secure ownership of the new National Maternity Hospital for the HSE.

The maternity hospital, to be built on the St Vincent's campus, will under current proposals be owned by the Order of the Sisters of Charity - but this has sparked a public outcry amid concerns about the Catholic ethos.

The Deloitte consultants are to investigate the workload of a number of St Vincent's public hospital consultants and the level of private practice they are carrying out in the private hospital. A HSE spokesman said this will begin "imminently".

The HSE insists these hospital consultants under the terms of their employment contract should be confined to treating private patients in the public hospital only - but this is disputed by St Vincent's.

The fractious relationship between St Vincent's Healthcare Group and the HSE may complicate efforts to resolve the row over the ownership of the new National Maternity Hospital.

One of the options put forward to defuse the maternity hospital row is a lease agreement, which would see the land on which it will be built transferred to the HSE.

It could pave the way for the maternity hospital to be owned by the HSE instead.

However, this kind of arrangement may not be acceptable to St Vincent's Healthcare Group which would see its control of the new hospital diminished and the presence of a HSE-owned facility on its campus.

A spokeswoman said yesterday: "The position of St Vincent's Healthcare Group has not changed - it is not commenting at this time. "

The HSE pays the St Vincent's Healthcare Group around €220m a year to run its public hospital and also St Michael's Hospital in Dún Laoghaire.

But the presence of the St Vincent's private hospital on the campus had led to ongoing rows with HSE chief Tony O'Brien saying at one point the private facility was "parasitic".

The first phase of the Deloitte investigation - looking at areas such as allocation of costs in electricity and heating between the two hospitals - found no adverse findings.

A spokesman for the Department of Health yesterday declined to say how the new set of talks would proceed although the minister is to meet with the boards of the National Maternity Hospital in Holles St and St Vincent's Healthcare Group.

He said: "As the minister said in his previous statements, he has asked for a period of time to allow himself and his officials to work with both hospitals to provide further detail on the arrangements which could be put in place to address issues of public concern.

"The minister has committed to reporting back to Government, the Oireachtas and to the public at the end of May."

It comes despite reassurances by the boards of Holles St and St Vincent's that the original agreement provides for full clinical independence.

Irish Independent

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