Wednesday 18 September 2019

Children's hospital private suites to go ahead despite uncertain future

Construction is ongoing at the new hospital site. Photo: Niall Carson/PA
Construction is ongoing at the new hospital site. Photo: Niall Carson/PA
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Construction of eight private outpatient consulting rooms at the new €1.7bn national children's hospital is to proceed, despite claims they may have a "short shelf life".

A spokeswoman for the hospital - which is being constructed on the campus of St James's Hospital in Dublin - said the overseeing board is obliged to provide consulting rooms to consultants with private practice.

The consultants will pay a fee for use of the facilities, but this has still not been worked out, and will be part of the "operational commissioning" to open the hospital, she said.

The spokeswoman did not provide a breakdown of the separate costs of the facilities, which are being built from State funds.

However, Dr Donal de Buitléir, who headed the expert group whose report called for the elimination of private practice from public hospitals in 10 years, said he expects the new children's suites to have a "short shelf life".

He said the suites may be used for another purpose for children as public patients in the years to come.

The spokeswoman for Children's Health Ireland, which includes the three existing hospitals, said it will ensure that any legislation and recommendations enacted by Government is implemented in the new children's hospital.

Meanwhile, Health Minister Simon Harris said he was personally in favour of making it mandatory that all newly recruited consultants confine their work to public patients, with no private practice.

He said this was his personal view, rather than that of the Cabinet, and he acknowledged that they would have to be "significantly remunerated".

He will begin talks next month with doctors' unions on calls to close the 30pc pay gap - worth about €50,000 - between consultants hired since 2012 and those recruited before.

This is supported by the de Buitléir report, which said all newly hired consultants from now on should be obliged to only work in public hospitals, with no private practice.

If the pay gap is bridged, the public-only consultant would have a salary with a maximum scale of €213,274.

The report recommends that around 2,500 existing consultants who currently have a public salary, and top up their income treating private patients, be given a payment to encourage them to switch to a public-only contract.

Mr Harris said he has yet to bring the report to Cabinet.

Ireland is an "outlier" in allowing private patients to be treated in public hospitals, he added. The report estimated the yearly cost after a decade would be €650m, but extra taxes on the public, as well as potentially higher insurance premiums, may be part of the reform plan.

Irish Independent

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