More than 630 patients who were on a waiting list at a major public hospital to see a specialist on spinal surgery are to be given private appointments paid for at a cost of €346,500 by the HSE.
The patients who had been awaiting an outpatient spinal appointment for more than 12 months in Tallaght Hospital in Dublin are being transferred to the Mater Private and will be reviewed by specialist surgeons there.
Tallaght is now recruiting more specialists. In addition, 31 spinal patients who were waiting longer than eight months for surgery have had their procedure carried out in the Mater Private under this agreement.
And a further 42 more complex spinal patients are being reviewed by the Mater Private to assess their surgical requirements.
Health Minister James Reilly said: "We all agree that the priority is for patients to be seen as quickly as possible, and sometimes that requires us to use public funding to purchase services in the private sector.
"I do not have an ideological or other issue with that, but I want to see the issue fixed in the public sector.
"I should point out that it takes quite a while to get a consultant surgeon, a consultant respiratory physician or any other type of consultant. They are generally working elsewhere and have contracts of employment. The job they apply for here would only be advertised once it is approved, and after that there would be an interview process.
"Following that, people often have to work out their contracts as they would not want to leave their employers high and dry, and they must give reasonable notice. On average, it takes anywhere between nine and 18 months to get a consultant into a post once approved. It seems a long time but that is the reality with which we deal."
He added: "I should put to bed, as I indicated earlier, the idea that somehow we are having grave difficulty in this regard. In specific areas and in some specialties, there are difficulties recruiting consultants but, as I mentioned, there are well over 100 extra consultants in the system compared with a few years ago."