HSE eyeing private hospitals in the event of new Covid wave

Second takeover of independent hospital sector unlikely in any new coronavirus surge

The former government took over 100%  capacity of 18 private hospitals at the end of March. Photograph: Getty Images

The former government took over 100% capacity of 18 private hospitals at the end of March. Photograph: Getty Images

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The Government is to look at reaching deals with individual private hospitals to secure facilities in the event of another Covid-19 wave, rather than taking over the entire sector for a second time.

Private hospitals on Friday received letters from the HSE about putting in place bilateral arrangements to come into effect if there is a significant increase in the number of people contracting Covid-19.

The HSE said on Friday that it was currently refining its requirements in relation to securing capacity and services to compensate for the shortfall in capacity in public hospitals due to the safety guidelines developed in line with the NPHET’s expert advisory group’s recommendations.

“As part of a wider strategy to address this shortfall the HSE is in the process of tendering for services in the private hospitals.”

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly was told by his officials in a briefing document that there could be a shortfall of 4,700 hospital beds – in a total system with over 11,000 beds – due to the requirements for social distancing and the objective of operating hospitals at 80 per cent capacity.

Mr Donnelly was told that “in terms of the requirement for elective work and replacement capacity the initial assessment suggests that our requirement will exceed the full capacity of the private hospitals and therefore the HSE is also considering alternative solutions such as increases in the number of intensive care unit beds, community-care options, access to diagnostics and virtual consultations”.

The former government took over 100 per cent capacity of 18 private hospitals at the end of March. However, it decided in May not to extended this arrangement beyond an initial three-month period which expired at the end of June. There had been concerned about the €300 million cost of the deal, and that the private hospital facilities were not being fully utilised.

The Cabinet in May mandated the HSE to enter into into talks on a revised arrangement with the private hospitals.

Capacity

It is understood that some members of the Cabinet expressed concern in recent days that no follow-on arrangement had been reached with private hospitals . Ministers were told that public hospitals were running at 96 or 97 per cent capacity.

The HSE said discussions had taken place with the Private Hospitals Association regarding the use of their facilities in the event of a Covid-19 surge.

The Private Hospitals Association said a new bilateral approach would provide greater flexibility for all concerned, and had the capacity to operate on a regional and local basis as necessary while still ensuring a high quality service delivery.

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