Forget about public A&E - head to the Blackrock or the Beacon
THE Government is planning to pay private hospitals to treat public patients in their A&E units. The Department of Health wants to use the spare capacity in private emergency and minor injury clinics to ease the burden on A&Es in public hospitals.
The development opens the prospect of private hospitals going into competition with public hospitals to deliver 24-7 emergency treatment.
At the moment, private facilities, such as the Blackrock Clinic, the Beacon Hospital and VHI SwiftCare clinics, offer a limited range of emergency treatments for paying patients with health insurance.
Private hospitals won't be obliged to sign up to treat public patients and can remain exclusively for private patients with high levels of health insurance cover.
But they would be turning down additional business. Department of Health sources say discussions with the private hospitals reveal some have 30-40 per cent additional capacity to treat patients.
Health Minister Dr James Reilly's reform of the health service, through the introduction of Universal Health Insurance, will result in changes to the delivery of A&E services.
Treatment in accident and emergency will remain outside the range of services included under Universal Health Insurance (UHI) and will continue to be funded by the State.
UHI will mean everybody will have basic health insurance cover, but wealthy people will take out additional cover on their premiums.
A new body, the Healthcare Commissioning Agency, will sign contracts with hospitals to pay to provide specific services and will stipulate requirements around safety and quality.
Dr Reilly's spokesman confirmed this would also involve contracts with private hospitals.
"Under Universal Health Insurance, it will be open to the Healthcare Commissioning Agency to seek emergency department services in private hospitals – as well as public – for patients," a spokesman said.
Department of Health sources say the issues around merging treatment between public and private hospitals would have to be finalised at a later date.
"The logistics of it would have to be worked out. Private emergency departments tend to do less serious cases and don't treat pregnant women or head injuries and so on. They could be interested in offering a fuller range of services," a source said.
But questions continue to mount around the cost to families of UHI.
The Irish College of General Practitioners, which represents about 3,000 GPs in Ireland, said research has shown insurance-based systems are more expensive than tax-based systems as well as more expensive for individuals.
It also stressed that the Dutch model – which has become a touchstone for Health Minister Dr James Reilly as he tries to push through his reforms – is under pressure.