Thursday 19 September 2019

Ban on private care in public hospitals may hike insurance

Health Minister Simon Harris. Picture: Gerry Mooney
Health Minister Simon Harris. Picture: Gerry Mooney
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Private health insurance premiums may rise as a Government-commissioned report will today call for consultants to no longer be allowed claim fees from insured patients in public hospitals.

The report, to be launched by Health Minister Simon Harris, calls for private practice to be eliminated from public hospitals over the next 10 years to reduce high waiting lists for surgery and specialist appointments. But it will cost the Exchequer around €659m annually over the next decade - a total of €6.6bn - due to €600m in lost income from private patients.

Extra investment will also be needed to hire more specialists to work exclusively for public patients. Insured patients can be treated in public hospitals but not privately and must wait their turn.

The knock-on effect will also mean private premiums could rise because insured patients who still want to jump the queue will have to rely on more expensive facilities.

The far-reaching report, carried out by a team led by Donal de Buitléir, was commissioned by Mr Harris on foot of the recommendation in Sláintecare, the blueprint for the future of the health service, to remove private practice from public hospitals over five years.

It will say 10 years are needed to make the transformation and there needs to be more private hospital facilities available to meet demand. But if waiting times for surgery and outpatient appointments in public hospitals reduce substantially, many people would also feel assured to give up their health insurance.

The move will prove unpopular with existing hospital consultants who have contracts allowing them to treat public and private patients. The report recommends all new consultants should move to a contract allowing public practice in public hospitals only.

Legislation will be needed to ensure public hospitals are exclusively used for public patients. The report says data should be collected on private activity, which is currently incomplete, and "robust monitoring and enforcement of existing consultant contract.".

Sources said "decisions on its recommendations are not being made at this stage and proposals will be brought to the Government by Mr Harris".

The most recent figures show a record 564,829 patients are waiting to see a specialist and 68,807 patients are in the queue for surgery.

It comes as the pre-Budget submission from the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) warns urgent action is needed to address the crisis in doctor recruitment and retention.

A survey by the 'Sunday Independent' yesterday showed almost half the country's GP practices are operating at maximum capacity and cannot take on new patients with rural areas particularly hit.

The IMO, which recently secured a €210m deal for GPs, warned one-quarter of GPs are to retire in the next five years.

It called for an end to the 30pc pay gap between newly recruited hospital consultants and longer service colleagues which is contributing to the 520 specialist posts being unfilled or covered on a temporary basis.

Irish Independent

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