Private practice to continue in public hospitals during Covid-19 crisis

Doctors with contractual rights can continue to see non-Covid-19 fee-paying patients

Private patients with non-Covid-19 illnesses will continue to be treated in public hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic, it has emerged.

The Government this week effectively took over the facilities of 19 private hospitals around the country as part of its plan for dealing with the current Covid-19 crisis.

However, a number of informed sources said the Department of Health signalled to health insurers at a meeting on Wednesday that private fee-paying patients would still be accommodated in public hospitals for treatment for non-Covid-19 illnesses.

Insurers can be charged up to €813 per day for subscribers treated in public hospitals who opt to avail of their insurance cover. Patients with Covid-19 will be treated in public hospitals without charge.


Separately in a note to members last night following talks with health service management, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) said consultants with contractual rights to see fee-paying patients (category B and C contracts) may continue to care for their current insured patients privately in their public hospital, provided that the care delivered is not related to Covid-19.

The IMO said also that consultants who held type B or type C contracts “can continue to treat their existing patients in a private hospital for the current episode of care, however upon cessation of the current episode of care such patients will be treated as public patients and no fees will apply (for example readmittance of that patient)”.

Informed sources also said insurers were advised that maternity and paediatric hospitals can continue to bill in respect of patients covered by private insurance.

Psychiatric hospitals

Sources said insurers were told private psychiatric hospitals would not be included in the deal reached between the Government and the private hospital sector earlier this week.

While much of the work of hospitals in the weeks ahead is likely to be dominated by coronavirus-related illnesses, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said earlier this week that people would still experience heart attacks, strokes and cancers. He said as far as practicable regular healthcare should continue.

It is understood insurers are to look for clarity in relation to a number of scenarios regarding subscribers being treated in both public and private hospitals in the weeks ahead.

In a statement issued following the meeting with the department on Wednesday, the representative group Insurance Ireland group said: "Insurance Ireland welcomes the Government's partnership with private hospitals in relation to the provision of public health services in private hospitals as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic. All health insurers support this."

Gerry Hassett, interim chief executive of Insurance Ireland, said: "We held a good meeting today and further clarifications will be required to determine exactly what the impacts are for customers and how to address these. We will then be in a position to advise our customers accordingly and are eager to do that quickly."

Under the initiative announced on Monday the Government has effectively brought about 19 private hospitals into the public health system.

The deal, which will run for three months and potentially up to five months, will have implications for more than two million people who have private health insurance, many of whom have plans which provide cover for private hospitals.

Health insurers have signalled that subscribers may see some financial benefits arising from the Government’s effective takeover of the private hospital system.

However, it may be early next week before any such details emerge.

Health insurer Laya said in recent days it would provide a financial support to its 600,000 members in response to the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.

The State-owned health insurer VHI – the largest in the Irish market – has advised subscribers that it will give back to them savings on claims generated as a result of the new measures to deal with the Covid-19 crisis.

Irish Life Health has indicated to its customers that they can expect a discount in the months ahead as a result of the Government's decision to bring all private hospitals under public control during the coronavirus crisis.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is the former Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent