Covid-19: Controversial private hospitals €340m deal leaves legacy of angry doctors

Analysis: State will take control of facilities again if future pandemic surge appears imminent

Paul Reid, HSE chief executive: The HSE pointed to large numbers of day cases being treated and argued hospitals were getting busier. The private consultants contended that the private hospitals were on average two-thirds empty. Photograph: Photocalll Ireland/PA

Paul Reid, HSE chief executive: The HSE pointed to large numbers of day cases being treated and argued hospitals were getting busier. The private consultants contended that the private hospitals were on average two-thirds empty. Photograph: Photocalll Ireland/PA

Your Web Browser may be out of date. If you are using Internet Explorer 9, 10 or 11 our Audio player will not work properly.
For a better experience use Google Chrome, Firefox or Microsoft Edge.

 

Hundreds of thousands of people covered by health insurance will once again be in a position to be treated in private hospitals from the beginning of July following the Government’s decision not to extend State control over these facilities.

The private hospital deal, though welcomed widely when announced at the end of March in the face of a potential surge in Covid-19 cases, has proved to be extremely costly and highly controversial.

It has left in its wake discommoded private patients, angry doctors, concerned health insurers and may well to be the catalyst for the establishment of a new representative body for private sector consultants.

At the end of March when the Government was looking to take over nearly 20 private hospitals, it was envisaging a scenario of the public system being overrun with thousands of Covid-19 patients seeking urgent care.

The Government’s new plan announced on Friday envisages not a sudden spike in cases which would dissipate, but rather an ongoing epidemic that will be around for the next six to 18 months with the occasional flare up.

The circumstances have changed since April and so have the pressures on Ministers over the agreement.

Under the agreement the State took over about 18 private hospitals including their staff, theatres and facilities. However the deal did not encompass about 600 private sector consultants who have traditionally seen thousands of private patients in these facilities.

These doctors argued they had been shut out of the private hospitals, leaving their traditional patients to join public waiting lists .

The private doctors were offered temporary contracts to work in the State system. About half did not sign up, fearful for their patients and their businesses, they ran a high-profile campaign for the initiative to scrapped .

The good problem for the Government was the private beds were really not needed after all as the much-feared surge never materialised.

The bad problem was that the bills kept mounting.

The HSE pointed to large numbers of day cases being treated and argued hospitals were getting busier . The private consultants contended that the hospitals were on average two-thirds empty.

However the sums involved were enormous. The Cabinet was told on Friday that the bill for three months could be €338 million.

Waiting lists

Non-urgent care was closed down at the height of the crisis. The patients who would have been treated remain on growing waiting lists which were already extremely large .

And while numbers in the queue increase, due to social distancing , the numbers who can be physically treated each day will be reduced.

On the other hand, the private consultants maintain that their patients now potentially face their own private waiting lists.

For the health insurers, who have about 2.2 million people on their books, the private hospital agreement changed their business and a series of rebates and financial supports had to be quickly introduced.

However the concern at the top of the industry was if the private hospitals remained for a prolonged further period in State control, subscribers may have begun to question the relevance of having insurance in the first place at a time when thousands are likely to have lost their jobs.

The Government’s solution has been to opt for a halfway house. Give back control of the private hospitals but negotiate a retainer that their capacity can be quickly secured if a Covid surge does come. The State will also want ongoing access to private beds to deal with the growing waiting lists.

Things may begin to get back to some form of normality. However a legacy of anger among doctors at the Department of Health remains.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.