Coronavirus: Consultant fears his patients may ‘go blind’ due to loss of private care

Prof Michael O’Keefe says temporary nationalisation during pandemic could lead to deaths

A private hospital consultant has warned that some of his patients may go blind and that others could die as a result of the State’s temporary takeover of the facilities to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

"The morbidity, even the mortality will rise up. It's not alone the virus which will kill people, but this will kill people," said Prof Michael O'Keefe, a consultant ophthalmic surgeon at the Mater Private Hospital and Beacon Hospital in Dublin.

“By and large what has happened in the past week is that the private hospitals have been nationalised for five months, maybe three to five months. Understandably the public system needs the private hospital beds, their ventilators and ICUs. Private hospitals are well run, good hospitals.”

Prof O'Keefe told RTÉ Radio's Brendan O'Connor Show that the development was "only fair" and that the public system "has been poor" for years.


He said there were 400 to 500 “private doctors” who had a lot of patients, himself included. He said he worked in both systems until he retired and now only works on the private side. He said that as of Monday he and colleagues had been “you can no longer see your private patients in private hospitals”.

‘Basket case’

Prof O’Keefe said these patients will “now have to be all put into the public waiting list” and that his view was the public system was “collapsed in time”.

“It’s been a basket case for ages. So all these patients, including mine, we’re now having to see what can we do for them,” he said. “I’m not exaggerating and I’m not shroud waving but I believe a number of my patients, if this goes on, will go blind.”

Prof O’Keeffe said there were other private patients, “people with bad rheumatoid disease, cardiac problems, respiratory problems”, now faced with “a dilemma”.

“They’ll be put back into the public system, a public system that is non-existent.This is the reality that is going to happen,” he said, adding it was “a serious, serious issue”.

He said he believed the private hospitals “should still be left open to see these patients” and that they should not be transferred into a public system “that is not fit for purpose”.

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry

Patsy McGarry is Religious Affairs Correspondent of The Irish Times