Private hospital purchase proposed as solution to ICU shortage

Acquisition would cost State €1m per bed but be ‘prudent investment’, Labour Party says

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly: “It will be cheaper and better for us all if they actually buy some of the private hospitals out there.” Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Labour Party leader Alan Kelly: “It will be cheaper and better for us all if they actually buy some of the private hospitals out there.” Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

The State should buy private hospitals to increase the number of intensive care beds it controls, rather than heightening Covid-19 restrictions to the limit, Labour leader Alan Kelly has said.

Such a move would “keep the economy much more open”, said Mr Kelly. Currently, 243 of the available 281 public hospital ICU beds are occupied, the vast majority by non-Covid cases. Twenty-two are occupied by Covid-19 patients.

On Sunday, the National Public Health Emergency Team said that, on current projections, 43 people would be hospitalised per day by November 7th, stretching ICU capacity.

The Health Services Executive has increased the number of ICU beds from 225 to 281 since February. Seventeen more will added under the Department of Health’s winter plan – a one-third increase in total, the HSE points out.

Dedicated staffing

Each bed takes time to bring on stream and requires dedicated staffing. Seven hundred and fifty staff working in other departments have been trained up to work in ICU if case numbers surge.

Elective surgery requiring high-dependency beds – a step below ICU ones – will be suspended if that happen, which will bring the number of ICU beds available to “between 400 and 500”, said the HSE.

Buying private hospitals would cost the State about €1 million per bed, the Labour Party estimates, but a €2 billion bill would be a “prudent investment” and pay for itself, said Mr Kelly .

Cheaper and better

Tax revenues lost through Level-5 restrictions would pay for this in the first place if they could be avoided: “It will be cheaper and better for us all if they actually buy some of the private hospitals out there,” said Mr Kelly.

It is understood the Government did consider buying at least one private hospital earlier this year. In the event, it effectively took over private hospitals for three months, with a cost of an estimated €340 million to the exchequer.

Mr Kelly was also highly critical of the manner in which the NPHET recommendation to move to Level 5 was announced, saying it was a “PR disaster”. He said the shock nature of it had upset a lot of people and led to a sleepless night.

He said the Government needed to improve its communications and come out with clear statements in relation to hospital capacity.