The HSE has been using the doomed Mount Carmel Hospital to clear its public hospital waiting lists, with 2,300 public adult and child patients treated there in the past year, the Sunday Independent has learned.
Patients were moved from Tallaght, St James's, Crumlin Children's Hospital, Naas and Letterkenny hospitals for surgical and other procedures in the private hospital that is now set to close its doors.
The revelation comes as the Irish Nurses' and Midwives' Organisation (INMO) last night claimed the hospital was on course to break even by the end of this year, despite its financial troubles.
INMO industrial relations officer Philip McAnenly told the Sunday Independent: "I cannot understand why the hospital is closing. It was very close to trading profitably and and I would urge the minister to look carefully at the figures before allowing the wind-down to go ahead."
He said the hospital was also well placed, with five state-of-the-art theatre suites, 65 in-patient and 55 day beds, to be part of the initiative to cut public waiting lists.
Mr McAnenly added: "The hospital had a turnover of €29m last year and a loss of about €1.05m. With cost-saving measures in place this year, they were on line to at least break even, if not make a small profit."
His comments come following the shock announcement on Friday that a liquidator has been appointed by the High Court to oversee an orderly closure of Mount Carmel over the next fortnight, with the loss of 330 jobs.
Dozens of expectant mothers now face huge uncertainty over where they will give birth. Women who have paid money to Mount Carmel for their private maternity care have been reassured by the liquidator that they will be repaid in full.
Meanwhile, the liquidation firm RSM Farrell Grant Sparks has confirmed that it is "working with the HSE to find alternative accommodation" for a group of non-maternity patients moved recently to Mount Carmel because of overcrowding in public hospitals.
A HSE spokeswoman confirmed that public patients had been moved "pending discharge or transfer to community faculties" and would "remain in Mount Carmel until appropriate facilities in the community are available".
Mr McAnenly said that Mount Carmel was not just a private maternity hospital. "Up to 80 per cent of patients attending Mount Carmel in the past year were public patients. In that time, 1,100 were treated and discharged and a further 1,200 were still attending out-patient clinics. These will now have to go back into the public system."
The industrial officer pointed to a conservative estimate that the closure would cost the Exchequer a once-off payment of between €6m and €8m for the redundancies, along with €4m a year in unemployment benefits and a further €7m lost in VAT and PAYE.
He added that Nama had valued the hospital at about €5m. He understood that two serious bids to buy the hospital had been rejected and he wanted to hear a fuller explanation as to why these bids had been turned down.
One of these bids came from Tony Barry of Barry's Tea and financier Fergal Mulchrone, who told the Sunday Independent yesterday that while they would not be making any further comment on the matter: "We did look at it, there was an offer on the table and that offer was not accepted."
Meanwhile, Masters of Dublin's three other maternity hospitals have been contacted by HSE national director for acute hospitals Ian Carter to work out a transfer arrangement for women booked into Mount Carmel.
Rotunda Hospital Master Dr Sam Coulter-Smith told the Sunday Independent: "No one is going to be left in the lurch." He urged anyone who was concerned to get in touch directly with his hospital.
Referring to the closure of Mount Carmel, he said: "People were half expecting it at some point, but it all happened in a bit of a rush. It is not right to have people not knowing where they are going."
However, he said he was hopeful that a solution will be worked out soon. "Everything will become a little clearer over the coming days," Dr Coulter-Smith added.
Spokespeople for both the Coombe Hospital and the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street said there were no specific mechanisms in place for a transfer of patients from Mount Carmel. However, both hospitals said they would be able to accommodate the Mount Carmel patients.
Clodagh Sheehy and Joanna Kiernan