Number of private patients in our public hospitals soars despite spiralling waiting lists
The number of private patients being treated in public hospitals has escalated at a time of spiralling waiting lists for people without health insurance, figures obtained by the Irish Independent reveal.
Last year, 280,162 private patients, whose treatment involves a fee to consultants, were seen nationally in acute public hospitals - up 21,848 since 2012.
At the same time, waiting lists for public patients are now at a record 684,800.
It raises new questions about whether too many fee-paying patients are being treated at the expense of public patients.
The HSE said it was not directly involved in monitoring the workload of consultants to determine if they were breaching contract rules by seeing more private patients than they should.
No more than 20pc of patients in public hospitals should be private.
But figures show that in the Limerick University Hospital Group they account for around 30pc.
The group includes University Hospital Limerick, Croom Orthopaedic Hospital, Ennis Hospital, Nenagh and St John's Hospital.
In response, a spokesman for the group said it continuously monitors both overall activity of consultants as well as the public and private ratio as per its contracts.
"I am assured that consultants working within the group are working to their scheduled sessional commitments as set out in their contracts," he said.
He said a number of issues relating to the midwest also had to be factored in, including the fact that compared with other parts of the country it had the lowest level of consultant cover in a number of specialties including orthopaedics, opthmalogy and endocrinology.
Unlike in Dublin, Cork or Galway, there was no private hospital in the midwest capable of servicing the demands of insured patients, he said.
Although nationally the ratio of public to private patients is 83:17, this disguises significant differences between hospitals.
These are not fully explained by a rise in insured people coming through A&E.
The HSE said all consultants were required to have a work practice plan agreed with their hospital chief and clinical director.
A spokeswoman said the latest data from September 2017 showed public patients made up 82pc of inpatient and 85.8pc of day cases.
No consultant had been sanctioned or disciplined in the past two years for not sticking to their quota of private patients, she said.