Hospitals overhaul 'to make it harder to recruit specialists'
Medical consultants earning almost €200m a year in fees for treating private patients in public hospitals are opposing controversial plans to overhaul the service, it has emerged.
The highly paid doctors are objecting to a key objective of the cross-party Sláintecare plan for the future of the health service, which would make State-funded hospitals exclusive to public patients only.
The blueprint suggested transferring insured patients to private facilities would reduce public waiting lists. However, the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) said such a move would make it more difficult to recruit specialists.
It would cost public hospitals around €800m a year in lost income from private patients.
Hospital sources estimated consultants earn around €200m a year in fees for private patients who are treated in public hospitals. This income is on top of their State salaries.
The doctors' organisation said that if public hospitals were denied €800m in private income there is no guarantee Exchequer funding would replace it.
"This is especially a concern as the State has for decades struggled to adequately fund the public acute hospital system," said IHCA president Tom Ryan.
It warned that there is no evidence that hospital consultants want contracts which confine them to treating public patients only for a "marginally higher salary". Currently just 6pc of the country's 2,600 consultants treat only public patients and have no private practice.
Hospitals are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit consultants. In 2016, a third of advertised posts could not find a suitable candidate. Nearly 60pc of the well-paid jobs received between "zero and two applications". The ICHA outlined its objections to an expert group set up under the chair of Dr Donal de Buitléir to assess the impact of removing private patients from public hospitals.
It said public patients would lose out and end up being treated in under-resourced and overcrowded public hospitals. Privately insured patients "will have access to a functioning and adequately resourced private hospital sector. This will not improve equity, nor is it desirable".
It comes as the latest figures for public hospitals shows a record 693,890 are now in some form of queue.
The Department of Health yesterday did not respond to questions from the Irish Independent asking whether three proposed new hospitals, promising to tackle public waiting lists, would admit private patients.