Private hospitals make emergency care offer
Hospitals pledge to invest in order to take patients currently seen in public facilities
The PHA says many insured patients end up being treated in public hospitals “simply because they were admitted through emergency departments”. Photograph: Getty Images
Private hospitals have said they will invest in staff and facilities to accommodate patients with health insurance who are currently seen in public hospital emergency departments if the Government implements the Sláintecare health reforms.
Private hospitals said an unambiguous Government commitment to phase out private care in public hospitals would trigger important changes in how they operated such as treating additional patients presenting through emergency departments.
In a submission to the Government-appointed expert group examining the impact of separating private care from public hospitals – one of the key elements of Sláintecare – the Private Hospitals Association (PHA) said its members would respond to such a policy change with additional investment in facilities and personnel.
The PHA also said the new expert group should recommend that the State sell off the VHI, the country’s largest health insurer, and that this would bring new competitive forces into the market.
“Given the Central Bank’s role in the regulation of health insurers, the State no longer needs to occupy the role of principal shareholder of the largest player in the Irish health insurance market.”
The PHA also argued that consultants working in the public hospitals system should not be precluded from seeing patients in the private sector if they wished after they fulfilled their commitments to the State system.
The private hospitals urged that elective or planned non-urgent treatment in public hospitals for patients with health insurance should be phased out over the next three years.
The PHA said that many insured patients currently ended up being treated in public hospitals “simply because they were admitted through emergency departments”.
“Collaborative planning initiatives should commence immediately in each hospital group area and with relevant stakeholders to explore how insured patients can be diverted to private hospitals in their area after their initial assessment.
“While certain patients will not be suitable for transfer to another hospital, others who elect to be treated privately and who are clinically assessed as suitable for movement and treatment in another hospital, should be facilitated.
“This approach will require careful joint planning by those responsible for clinical governance in both hospitals, and could provide considerable assistance in relieving pressure on public hospital emergency departments and wards.”
The PHA said that an unambiguous commitment by Government to a policy phasing out private care in public hospitals would trigger important changes in the operation of private hospitals and in the accommodation of additional patients “particularly emergency department patients rather than elective admission”.
“Over time PHA members will invest as necessary to accommodate all those patients currently receiving private care post-emergency department admission who elect to be treated privately and who transfer to a private hospital.
“Over time also, the existing emergency department services within the private system will expand in terms of range and opening hours in response to increasing demand, and other emergency departments may open.”
The PHA said it would require “a specific approach” and longer lead-in time before maternity services – which are currently exclusively provided in public hospitals – could be offered in the private sector.
“It is recommended that the expert group ring-fence this area of care, acknowledging that a planning time of greater than five years will be required to develop suitable services in the private sector.”
The PHA said that other key specialities which were currently largely or exclusively offered in public hospitals such as transplants or stroke care should be specifically reviewed in the same manner as maternity care by the expert group.
The PHA represents 19 private hospitals across the country.