Minor injury clinics market gets shake up with new rival for VHI
Healthcare firm to open new outlets in Galway and Limerick
Patients will have more choice of minor injury clinics with a new chain opening up. Affidea, the privately owned chain of European healthcare clinics, is to start treating minor injuries and offering additional services at its outlets.
The move will put it in direct competition with the VHI's Swiftcare business.
VHI announced during the summer that it is going to block access to its Swiftcare clinics to non-VHI members from September.
The popular VHI clinics have helped ease some pressure on busy hospital A&Es. Open from 8am to 10pm, 365 days a year, they have short waiting times and patients can be treated for anything from a sore throat or minor burns to a broken arm.
But from September 1, the three Swiftcare clinics - two in Dublin and one in Cork - will only be open to VHI policyholders. The decision could have significant consequences for the insurer as Affidea takes it on in the healthcare market.
Affidea is planning to provide treatments at its network of 10 clinics around the country - four of which are in Dublin.
Treatment of minor injuries will start at some of them by the end of this year and it is planned that all its clinics will have such services by 2020.
Affidea also has clinics in cities and towns including Cork, Waterford, Letterkenny, Naas and Mallow and is planning to open clinics in Galway and Limerick.
It also attracts many customers from Northern Ireland.
The clinics already offer advanced diagnostic screening services for patients, using machines such as MRI scanners.
Affidea's busiest clinics typically open from 7am to 8pm, but often stay open until midnight.
Its MRI scans - performed using machines more advanced than are found in any hospital here - cost €245 in Dublin and vary at other clinics. An X-ray costs between €65 and €120.
The installation cost of an MRI scanner of the type used by Affidea is about €1m.
"Irrespective of VHI's decision, treatment of minor injuries is something we would have been looking at anyway," said Affidea Ireland's CEO, Tom Finn, who is a former HSE executive.
He added: "We'd already planned to have it up and running in some places by the last quarter of this year. It's part of our 2025 strategic plan to evolve the company from just diagnostics to providing as many of the adjacent services that we can.
"Over the past couple of years, we've spent probably €15m on new centres, remodelling centres and replacing equipment. We have quite an aggressive expansion plan for the remainder of this year and into next year."
Affidea, which employs about 300 people, will invest an additional €25m in its Irish chain in the next two years.
Last year, the company opened a clinic in Letterkenny, Co Donegal. Mr Finn said it didn't even advertise for radiographers for the clinic, but filled all the vacancies with locals keen to move home from places such as the UK and Australia.
Radiographers earn about 10pc more with Affidea than with the HSE, but Mr Finn said it was also difficult to compete with benefits provided by the public service.
Mr Finn, who was once nicknamed the "minister for outsourcing" when we worked at the HSE, also slammed public hospitals for charging insurance companies to treat patients for services they would have received for free anyway as a public patient.
"You go into a hospital now and your insurance company is billed €700 or €800 a night, irrespective of which bed you're in, which I think is fundamentally wrong," he said.
"As a taxpayer, I'm already paying for that bed. I agree with the anger of the insurance companies. It is fundamentally a stealth tax on people.
"I would be very much on the side of the insurers on this. I think it's fundamentally wrong that any citizen of Ireland is forced to pay for something that they're entitled to for free."