Sunday 18 March 2018

Private patients to be removed from public hospitals to tackle waiting lists

Stock picture
Stock picture

Eilish O’Regan

Controversial plans to no longer treat patients with health insurance in public hospitals were backed today by private hospitals.

The need for drastic action to tackle spiralling waiting lists for public patients- which have a record 658,677 in some form of queue - has sparked the dramatic  plan.

The proposal  to remove private patients from public hospitals, except where specialist treatment is needed, is set to be one of the key recommendations of the Oireachtas committee drawing up a blueprint for the future of the health service.

The move would free up beds for public patients while tackling spiralling waiting lists and the trolley crisis.

In a significant statement today the Private Hospitals’ Association , which represents private hospitals across the country, said they would welcome the move and can cater for the majority of private patients instead.

Simon Nugent, the organisation’s chief executive said : “It makes sense to take patients with private health insurance out of the public system and this initiative could be implemented very quickly.”

“The transfer of patients could commence in the first year of a new strategy rather than waiting until year two as suggested by the Oireachtas Committee.”

The latest hospital waiting lists for public patients are out of control with a staggering 658,677 people in some form of queue for care, jumping by 15,000 between February and March alone.

The committee believes that this could be dramatically reduced if private patients were not allowed occupy public beds- but it would mean a €621m drop in income from insurers for public hospitals.

Mr Nugent said today: “Private hospitals have the cutting-edge diagnostics, beds, personnel at consultant level and the outcomes to justify such a move. We make approximately 1 million bed nights available to the Irish healthcare system each year and employ over 8,100 healthcare professionals across Ireland.”

“The growing capacity and range of specialities of the private system contrasts with that of its public counterpart. The public system has fewer beds than it did in 1980 and this initiative could free up much needed beds to help treat public patients.

“This would be a significant step in disentangling our mixed systems and helping patients access treatment quickly.”

He argued that the committee’s plans for healthcare reform should also bring about a  level playing field between the private and public systems.

He said the current system of charging private patients who end up in a public bed in public hospitals is flawed.

Previously, patients with health insurance was placed in a public rather than private bed their insurance company was not charged the full rate but that was changed in recent years.

“This undermines confidence in the value of private health insurance and directly raises premiums. Such increases trigger a downgrading of policies, shifting demand back towards public hospitals.”

He called on the Government which is carrying out a mid-term review of its capital plan, setting out its building priorities for health facilities, to provide more supports to stimulate construction in private hospitals.

“Private providers stand willing to invest in additional beds, operating theatres and other facilities if there was policy certainty that a greater number of privately insured patients would be referred to such hospitals,” he added.

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