Coronavirus: Plans to move 600 consultants into public system hit obstacle

Concern over private patient care as further 21 die and 390 new cases confirmed

Views from a drone of an empty and coronavirus-restricted Dublin city centre on a Sunday morning. Video: Aerial.ie

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A key element of the Government’s plans for dealing with the Covid-19 crisis – the move of up to 600 private hospital medical specialists into the public system – remained in doubt on Sunday night as consultants continued to have strong concerns about elements of the initiative.

The latest delay regarding the recruitment of private consultants to the public system came as a further 21 people died of the coronavirus in Ireland and 390 new cases were confirmed.

A total of 158 people have died in the State after contracting Covid-19, figures released on Sunday evening show, and a total of 4,994 cases have been diagnosed since the pandemic began.

The Government on Sunday tabled a draft locum contract for private hospital medical consultants to work for the State on a temporary basis. The Government had already effectively taken over facilities in 19 private hospitals for the next three months.

However, the Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) said on Sunday night that, on initial consideration, there were very significant issues with the terms of the locum contract.

Continuity

IHCA spokesman Peter Ryan, a consultant urologist at Bon Secours Hospital in Cork, said there was strong concern regarding continuity of care for thousands of existing outpatients currently under the care of full-time private practice consultants.

He suggested that consultants may have to close their privately owned consulting rooms due to restrictions on practice set out in the Government’s proposed contract.

Under the Government’s proposals, private medical consultants would be offered a contract which would permit them to treat only public patients.

Mr Ryan said: “Private consulting rooms form a very large component of the outpatient continuing care infrastructure in Ireland, contributing to approximately 30 per cent of outpatient consultations.

“The removal of this vital service at a time of a surge in need for medical care will cause untold disruption, not to mention that the laying-off of the consulting rooms’ staff will add to the growing numbers of unemployed.

“Many private clinics are now constantly receiving calls from anxious patients who will have nowhere to go for ongoing care. Many of these have serious conditions which need ongoing attention, and some will deteriorate if care is not available.”

Mr Ryan said the underlying problem was that the running costs to operate the privately owned consulting rooms were very high “and the State threatens to prohibit the charging of fees for patients seen at these locations”.

“In the absence of funding to operate our rooms, they will simply have to close down. This will be a calamitous blow to outpatient services in Ireland, from which it may take years to recover.”

He said the Bon Secours Hospital in Cork would shut down virtually all admissions with the exception of medical oncology infusion patients as its 55 consultants had no contract with the State.

Takeover

On Sunday consultant ophthalmic surgeon Michael O’Keeffe warned that some of his patients may go blind while others could die as a result of the Government temporary takeover of private hospitals to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

Also on Sunday, HSE chief executive Paul Reid said the ability of the health service to test for coronavirus would be doubled from next week to about 4,500 per day. However, this remains subject to the availability of sufficient supply of reagents for use in the testing process.

Mr Reid also admitted 20 per cent of a consignment of personal protective equipment for health workers that arrived from China last weekend does not meet the requirement for general use in the health system here.

He also said work on an app to aid the tracing of contacts of confirmed cases was well advanced, with user testing under way. The app will be ready to roll out in mid-April, he indicated.

Separately, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has re-registered as a medical practitioner and will work one shift a week to help out during the coronavirus crisis.

In contrasting news, the British prime minister Boris Johnson has been admitted to hospital for tests due to his coronavirus symptoms persisting. Downing Street described it as “a precautionary step”.

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