Private hospitals in State to cater for Covid-19 cases only as pandemic spreads

Non-essential elective surgery in private facilities to ‘go to back of queue’ during crisis

A  bed in the emergency department at the Mater Private clinic in Dublin. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

A bed in the emergency department at the Mater Private clinic in Dublin. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

The State’s private hospitals will initially not be used to cater for people suffering from Covid-19; however, it is anticipated that this will change as the pandemic spreads further.

Sources in the sector confirmed last night that, in the wake of a landmark deal to open the State’s private hospitals up to the public system, initially they would be used for essential and urgent trauma, ongoing cancer care and other urgent cases.

Medical sources have previously suggested that there would be merit to creating “fever” and “clean” hospitals for a time, as has been implemented in China. However, there is an acceptance in the sector that private hospitals, which have 2,000 beds across 19 hospitals and employs 8,000 staff, will almost certainly have to take on Covid patients as pressure on the healthcare systems increases.

The deal, which is still to be fully finalised and signed off, will see the cancellation or postponement of significant numbers of non-essential elective surgeries scheduled across the private hospital network in the months to come. Sources said these procedures would effectively “go to the back of the queue” during the Covid crisis.

In a statement released on Tuesday evening, the Private Hospitals Association (PHA) confirmed it was “collaborating with the HSE” on the Covid-19 outbreak and “fully supports all strategic measures currently under consideration aimed at combating this pandemic”.

Discussions continuing

However, in a divergence from comments made by the Taoiseach on Tuesday, which suggested a final deal had been agreed, the PHA said discussions were continuing. It is understood that the PHA is still awaiting a final proposal document from the Government.

While there is consensus around the State’s public-health led approach to the pandemic and expectation that the deal would be concluded, several items remained to be finalised, including the exact nature of the financial agreement between the hospitals and the State, which will be done on a not-for-profit basis, but will still be a significant sum.

“The precise detail of the HSE plan is still being discussed and we would hope to finalise this in the coming days,” the PHA said last night.

The shake-up of the State’s two-tier healthcare system, while temporary, will present challenges for stakeholders across the sector. Private healthcare insurers, for example, may face policy cancellations or demands for cuts in rates charged to consumers who will no longer enjoy the benefits of fast-track access to the private hospital system during the pandemic.

In a statement issued on behalf of insurers on Tuesday, industry body Insurance Ireland said private health insurers “will work with the Government and the private hospitals to play a constructive role in supporting the public system during this crisis. It is understood that the health insurance consultative forum will be meeting shortly to discuss the implementation of these necessary steps.”