Simon Harris ‘very cautious’ about VHI buying private hospitals

Minister for Health says he would ‘need to think long and hard’ about any initiative

Minister for Health Simon Harris said VHI wanted to ensure it remained a commercial semi-State body on a sustainable basis into the future. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Health Simon Harris said VHI wanted to ensure it remained a commercial semi-State body on a sustainable basis into the future. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

Minister for Health Simon Harris has said he would be very cautious about State-owned health insurer VHI acquiring private hospitals.

However, Mr Harris said he welcomed moves by the board of VHI to explore diversification.

He said he had not received any proposals regarding the insurer buying into or acquiring private hospitals and would be “very, very cautious” in relation to such initiatives if they were put forward.

The Minister said that as the shareholder of the company he would “need to think long and hard” about any such proposals.

“We are entering a significant programme of health reform here and we need to be very conscious of that,” he said.

The Irish Times reported on Wednesday that VHI was understood to be looking at acquiring or buying into private hospitals in what would represent a major change to its traditional business model.

It is believed the company made approaches a number of months ago about purchasing the 200-bed Beacon Hospital in south Dublin, which is controlled by businessman Denis O’Brien.

Ultimately, this bid did not come to fruition.

St Vincent’s Private Hospital

Sources said another possible target for VHI could be St Vincent’s Private Hospital in Dublin, which is part of the overall St Vincent’s Healthcare Group that also operates the publicly-funded St Vincent’s University Hospital and St Michael’s Hospital in Dún Laoghaire.

Asked about whether it had received approaches from VHI regarding its private hospital, the group said: “St Vincent’s Private Hospital enjoys an excellent reputation both in Ireland and internationally. The hospital is an important asset in the St Vincent’s Healthcare Group and is not for sale.”

VHI told The Irish Times in a statement the healthcare system in Ireland would not meet the needs of the Irish population in the future. It said it was continuing to explore options with a range of partners from across the healthcare system, including hospitals .

The company said it had appointed consultant haematologist and former HSE head of clinical strategy and programmes Dr Barry White to lead a new healthcare unit in VHI “which will be responsible for developing healthcare solutions that will meet the future needs of our customers”.

VHI said it was constantly talking to its providers to explore how it could evolve its offering to meet the current and future healthcare needs of customers. “The demographic profile of the Irish population is continuing to change with increasing demands on both the public and private healthcare system. It is clear that the healthcare system in place now will not meet the needs of the Irish population in the future. This challenge is even more pressing for VHI given the age profile of our customers,” it said.

Mr Harris said he wanted to acknowledge that VHI was operating very well and that it was now on a much more solid financial footing.

He said the company wanted to explore diversification and ensure that the company remained a commercial semi-State body on a sustainable basis into the future.