Government said to be considering purchase and nationalisation of some private hospitals

Government said to be considering purchase and nationalisation of some private hospitals

The Government is considering buying a number of the country’s 19 main private hospitals and nationalising them in a bid to increase public bed capacity in the health system post-Covid-19.

Government plans to increase the number of hospitals under the Ireland 2040 capital development project will, if suitable, include the purchase of existing private facilities, as opposed to simply building new ones, several senior sources have said.

Today, the country begins the long road back to normality with the partial lifting of restrictions to personal freedoms, with more than 100,000 construction employees among those expected back to work.

Despite this positive step forward, the Health Protection Surveillance Centre confirmed last night that a further 10 people with Covid-19 have died. As a result, there have now been a total 1,543 Covid-19 related deaths in Ireland.

The desire to examine private hospitals for purchase comes amid heightened tensions between the private hospitals and the Government over the continuation of the current €115m-a-month deal which has seen them temporarily nationalised because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is understood that:

  • Health Minister Simon Harris and his officials are attracted to the idea of purchasing existing facilities for use for elective and non-urgent procedures, as a means of relieving pressure on the acute hospital system;
  • A number of the country’s private hospitals, which operate on tight margins, could be tempted to sell to the State, saving the taxpayer the expense of building a series of new facilities from scratch;
  • One senior source pointed to the NHS Golden Jubilee facility in Glasgow, previously a private facility, which was taken over by the state over a decade ago and has operated successfully since then as an elective hospital;
  • With a desire to expedite the journey to a single-tier health system under the Sláintecare model, private operators are more likely to be willing to sell out as their market share is squeezed, officials believe.

“Before you look to build, it makes absolute sense to test the existing market first and such a scenario has significant benefits to the taxpayer and also to patients as it would be far quicker than having to go through planning, developing, and all the other normal headaches,” said a senior source.

It emerged last week that private hospitals were threatening to pull out of the agreement which has seen the State take over their facilities during the Covid-19 crisis if the HSE does not increase the number of patients it is sending them.

The hospitals suggested they would look for an alternative arrangement with the Government to provide care to patients, similar to the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF).

The Government has to tell private hospitals by the end of May as to whether it wants to extend the deal.

In addition to the 10 deaths reported yesterday, it was confirmed that 64 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 were recorded.

There is now a total of 24,112 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Ireland since the outbreak began in February.

The HSE is working to identify any contacts the patients may have had, to provide them with information and advice to prevent further spread.

As of midnight on Friday, of the 23,953 confirmed cases of Covid-19, 57% are female and 43% are male.

The median age of confirmed cases is 48 years.

In total, 3,117 cases (13%) have been hospitalised and of those, 389 cases have been admitted to intensive care units.

It was also confirmed that 7,566 cases are associated with healthcare workers.

Dublin has the highest number of cases at 11,666 (49% of all cases), followed by Kildare with 1,361 cases (6%) and then Cork with 1,352 cases (6%). Of those for whom transmission status is known, community transmission accounts for 60%, close contact accounts for 37%, and travel abroad for 3%, the HSE said.

Meanwhile, emergency nurses and doctors have warned that, as the country begins to emerge from lockdown, emergency departments and hospitals must not return to overcrowding in the coming weeks.

The Irish Association for Emergency Medicine and the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation, who represent frontline nurses and doctors in emergency departments across the country, warned that the “problems of the past” may emerge again as the health service gradually ramps up non-Covid-19 activities.

They warned that overcrowding and understaffing may lead to increased infection risk, poor patient outcomes, and unsafe workplaces.

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