Monitoring of private hospitals by State watchdog to start later this year

Hiqa unveils public consultation on including inspection of private hospitals in its remit

The State’s health watchdog is to be given powers to monitor private hospitals later this year, seven years after it was promised those powers.

The Health Information and Quality Authority (Hiqa) on Friday unveiled a public consultation on amending its powers to inspect public hospitals to also include the private health sector.

The Patient Safety (Notifiable Incidents and Open Disclosure) Act 2023, which is expected to commence this year, expands Hiqa’s functions in setting standards and monitoring to private hospitals.

In June 2017, then minister for health Simon Harris promised legislation giving Hiqa power to investigate incidents in private healthcare would be brought to cabinet later that year.

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A key objective of the new legislation would be to improve patient safety by ensuring healthcare providers do not operate below core standards that are applied in a consistent and systematic way, Mr Harris said at the time.

In the event, the relevant change was included in wider open disclosure legislation that was initiated in 2019 and eventually signed into law last May.

Currently, Hiqa has powers to investigate issues in public hospitals, though it cannot impose sanctions or investigate individual complaints by patients. It also has powers to maintain standards at residential care homes.

Once in operation, private hospitals will be required to report unintended death and other serious incidents to the regulator.

The new legislation expands Hiqa’s remit significantly, according to Rachel Flynn, director of health information and standards. “This update will be a welcome development for many patients who avail of services in private hospitals, as it will ensure consistency across both public and private hospitals.”

Hiqa is inviting the feedback from the public and health services providers on amending the scope of the standards to include private hospitals. The deadline for submissions is Friday, April 12th.

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Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times