A CASH-STRAPPED hospital has told staff to "optimise" the number of private patients to bring in revenue.
As the crisis in the health system deepened again, it also emerged that children with serious cancers are having their treatment delayed by up to four days because of pressure on services caused by cutbacks.
Prof Owen Smith of Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children hit out at the delays, saying: "A lot of our cancers in children are high-grade malignancies and we need to get these drugs into these children in a timely fashion.
"We can't continue to give the quality care we have been giving with current resources."
The chief executives of four of the country's biggest hospitals, including Our Lady's, have written to HSE director general Tony O'Brien, warning that funding cuts and an increased demand for services have begun to threaten the quality and safety of patient care.
Meanwhile, staff at Connolly Hospital in Blanchardstown have been asked to optimise private occupancy to generate enough money to break even.
In a memo from acting director of nursing Anne Murphy to managers and nursing staff, the hospital says it has also capped the number of healthcare assistants at seven each day until the end of the year.
Daily reports on the number of private patients admitted are to be sent to management, and family members are being asked to accompany their relatives for procedures – where feasible and safe – to free up hospital staff.
A HSE spokeswoman said "optimising" private patients was simply an instruction to staff to put them, where possible, into private beds. She said if private patients were put in public beds, they could not be charged for a private facility.
Separately, the chief executives of St James's, the Mater, Tallaght and Our Lady's hospitals have said it is contradictory to ask hospitals to reduce waiting lists and staff numbers while at the same time guaranteeing safe services to patients.