Ending private care in public hospitals could cut waiting lists 25% – Harris

Government may buy health facilities to use as elective patient hospitals

Eliminating private medicine in public hospitals could free up over 2,000 beds across the county and reduce waiting lists by 25 per cent, Minister for Health Simon Harris is to tell the Cabinet this week.

The Minister is also looking at buying existing health service or other facilities to convert them into hospitals exclusively for patients on waiting lists requiring elective or non-urgent treatment. This is seen as a quicker process than building new hospitals.

The current children's hospital in Crumlin and Cappagh orthopaedic hospital have been mentioned previously as potential sites for elective-only facilities. Sources said non-hospital facilities that could be converted may also be assessed.

Mr Harris also said on Sunday he was planning a review of structures in the Department of Health, similar to an exercise in the HSE aimed at slimming down layers of management.

Mr Harris will update the Cabinet on various health service reform plans arising from the Sláintecare initiative and the recent de Buitléir report on removing private medicine from public hospitals.

Analysis commissioned by the Department of Health to be given to the Cabinet is expected to say that ending private practice in public hospitals – which is strongly opposed by doctors – would have significant benefits.

The Department of Health will argue that initial indications from its research suggests eliminating private medicine in public hospitals could free up 2,100 existing beds and reduce waiting lists by up to 25 per cent.

Elective hospitals

The recent expert group chaired by Dr Donal de Buitléir estimated the cost of removing private medicine from public hospitals would, at the end of a 10-year implementation period, be about €650 million per annum – mainly as a result of the loss of existing private income .

It suggested there would also have to be a contract change payment made to consultants.

The Cabinet will hear the Department of the Taoiseach has convened meetings with the Department of Health and the Department of Public Expenditure – which is understood to be concerned at the potential costs involved – as part of moves to advance discussions on ending private practice in public hospitals.

The Government announced last year it was planning to put in place three new hospitals, in Dublin, Cork and Galway, which would be used exclusively for elective or non-urgent patients – rather than those admitted through emergency departments – as part of attempts to drive down waiting lists.

The Cabinet will be told that decisions on the precise locations and the scope of services to be provided in each centre, will be made early next year.

However, it is understood the Sláintecare office in the Department of Health is examining whether existing hospitals – whether owned by voluntary organisations in the public system or by private operators – could be purchased by the State to accelerate the introduction of elective-only hospitals.

Health regions

The Cabinet is also expected to be told that full proposals on the establishment of six new health service regions will be ready for consideration by the Government next March.

Work is under way on assessing which services should be provided on a national or regional basis, profiling populations in each region and establishing their needs and resource allocation.

An evaluation of the role of the Department of Health with regard to the HSE is also being carried out.

The Irish Times reported last month that the size of the HSE at central level is to be scaled back and it will have fewer staff in future on foot of the reforms.

HSE chief executive Paul Reid said in an interview with the Sunday Business Post that he would initiate a "targeted and strategic" redundancy scheme early next year.

Mr Harris said on Sunday the plan would involve having fewer layers of management and he intended for a similar review to be carried out in the Department of Health.