Ireland’s newest maternity hospital will conduct private healthcare business on its premises despite Health Minister Simon Harris voting to keep all business in the new facility public.
A private member’s bill set down on the matter in the Dáil by Fianna Fáil’s health spokesperson Stephen Donnelly in late June called for a guarantee from the Government that the new hospital, to be constructed on the site of St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin, would not have separate facilities for private patients.
The bill was carried unanimously, indicating the tacit approval of the minister for that guarantee.
Despite this, the minister stated in July that some consultants are entitled to engage in private outpatient practice outside of their public commitment and that this “commitment must be conducted on site”.
He added that “these clinics must be held outside contracted hours”.
“There is an obligation to provide such facilities for consultants holding such contracts,” the minister said at the time.
The news contrasts with the findings of the recent de Buitléir report, into removing private care from public hospitals. That report which stated that private care should be phased out of public hospitals over a period of 10 years, at a cost of roughly €1bn to the exchequer.
At the time of that report’s publication, Mr Harris said he would be consulting “with key stakeholders and my colleagues in Government to consider further key implementation issues” before commenting on how the findings might be implemented, if at all.
In the aftermath of the report’s release, Mr Harris said: “I passionately believe in universal healthcare”, adding “it’s not going to happen overnight”.
However, Mr Donnelly said that Mr Harris’ actions since the summer indicate that the opposite is the case.
“For me it’s fundamentally dishonest for Fine Gael to have adopted a motion stating there would be no private facilities in the new hospital while at the same time intending to do exactly that, and then confirming as much in writing,” he told the Irish Examiner.
"It believes that those who have private health care alone are entitled to it.”
On the argument that consultants’ contracts preclude the exclusion of private care from the new hospital, Mr Donnelly said:
“Those contracts simply have to be dealt with, to take them out of the equation.”
“I don’t believe that the Government supports de Buitléir, nor Sláintecare itself. Their actions simply do not back up any support for a great public health system,” he said.