Doctors treat private patients as 43,500 on public list must wait
More than 43,500 public patients on gruelling hospital waiting lists have lost out to fee-paying patients in the past two years as some consultants flagrantly breach their contracts, it was claimed last night.
The patients have been forced to endure long delays while some hospital consultants treat more private patients than they are entitled to, RTÉ's 'Prime Time Investigates' claimed.
Several hospitals with long queues of public patients facing the longest delays are also flagrantly breaching the 20pc limit on private patients and are getting much-needed health insurance income.
Surveillance by researchers on the programme found one orthopaedic consultant worked an average of 23.5 hours a week in his public hospital - nearly 16 hours less than he was paid for.
At the same time he worked an average of 25 hours a week in a private hospital.
It meant he only worked five out of eight weeks in the public hospital.
It comes amid mounting concern about the soaring numbers of public patients on waiting lists - now at a record 684,800 - with many in pain and enduring waits of two years for surgery.
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The programme found that some hospital consultants, who are confined to treating private patients in their public hospital, are working off-site in the Mater Private in Dublin and other private facilities.
Health Minister Simon Harris conceded last night that some consultants were "significantly exceeding" their private patient limits and were also working in private hospitals.
He said the "department has written to the HSE in recent months" emphasising the need for doctors to comply with their contract.
However, he refused to release the content of the letter and it is unclear if it was questions from the media which prompted the action.
The HSE said it needed to view the programme before responding to the consultants' practices and added it was a matter for hospital groups since 2014 to monitor consultants' workload.
The programme found that hospitals treating well beyond the 20pc of private patients included University Hospital Limerick, Croom Orthopaedic Hospital, Limerick, St Luke's Kilkenny, Tallaght Hospital and Mallow Hospital.
In response, the Irish Medical Organisation said the vast majority of consultants worked over and above their contractual commitments. The Irish Hospital Consultants Association said many private patients were coming through A&E and doctors couldn't control the public and private mix.