Sickest patients 'lose out' in €5m scheme to pay private hospitals to reduce waiting lists
Some of the sickest patients on public waiting lists are to lose out in a €5m move by the Government to outsource care to private hospitals.
None of the 11,272 patients in need of a hip or knee transplant will get their operation done for free in a private hospital.
Instead, the move will concentrate on private treatment for patients who need only lower-level, day-case procedures such as cataracts, the removal of lesions and dental extractions.
These are cheaper and will bring more people off the waiting list.
The National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF), which will contract private hospitals to carry out the work, has yet to issue tenders.
It will be June before it is able to detail where the remaining €10m allocated this year for outsourcing care of public patients will be spent.
In the past, governments and the NTPF have been criticised for concentrating on volume instead of arranging surgery for a lower number of patients with complex and painful conditions, which is more expensive.
Under the first phase of outsourcing, it is planned that 3,000 of these day-case procedures can be carried out for around €5m.
A spokesman said patients waiting for these procedures in all public hospitals would be offered private treatment and they would be contacted.
The slow pace and choice of procedures are a major setback to the nearly 536,000 people who are facing 2017 on a public waiting list.
No patient on an outpatient waiting list of 437,558 will benefit although 31,485 have been in the queue for more than 18 months.
Health Minister Simon Harris pledged he would use the NTPF to reduce the gynaecology waiting list of 4,000 women in Cork University Hospital.
However, they will not be included in this phase.
Dr Louise Kenny, obstetrician and gynaecologist in Cork, warned yesterday some of the women are likely to be "incubating cancer" while they are waiting.
Former Holles Street master Dr Peter Boylan said outsourcing patients to doctors "they have never seen before" was "grossly unsatisfactory" and "bad clinical practice".
"The money should be put into the health service," he said, adding that outsourcing did not tackle the underlying problems causing the waiting lists.
"The HSE will submit the 2017 action plan for waiting lists for the public acute hospital sector for inpatients and day-cases and outpatients," Mr Harris said yesterday.
Dr John Duddy, president of the Irish Medical Organisation, said that "the allocation of public money to private hospitals removes vitally needed resources" from public hospitals.
"Health finance is a zero-sum game.
"If the minister gives money to private hospitals, he is doing so at the expense of public hospitals," he said.
"That might help the Government massage waiting list figures in the short term but it simply adds to the difficulty of sorting out our public hospitals in the medium to long term.
"Successive ministers have used the NTPF as a tool to massage figures and give the impression of action."