It will cost €6.6bn to remove private healthcare from public hospitals — but there is no information in an independent review group report on how this bill will be paid.
This has been highlighted by hospital consultants who are fundamentally affected by the report’s proposals.
The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) reacted to the report’s publication, after a delay of six months, by saying that increasing the capacity of public hospitals is the answer to the clogging seen in the health system, not the removal of private healthcare.
“The proposal will have the effect of removing €6.59bn in private health insurance income over a 10-year period, from already severely underfunded acute public hospitals,” said Martin Varley, secretary of the IHCA, adding that once inflation is taken into account the likely bill could be closer to €8bn.
He said the Government has a track record of underinvestment in acute hospitals where specialist care is provided, while a large shortfall in the number of hospital beds available already exists.
He said “no real answers” are provided in the report with regard to how it should be funded.
Donal de Buitléir, the report’s chairman, said he believes the report’s recommendations will be implemented within 10 years.
Health Minister Simon Harris said he will consult with stakeholders and his colleagues in Government “to consider further key implementation issues”.
At present, private insurance income for public hospitals stands at €524m per year — income expected to leave the public system should public and private care be separated. The removal of that cashflow can be offset via savings of at least €269m a year achieved in pursuing the plan in an expeditious manner, according to Social Democrats TD Róisín Shortall.
This optimistic outlook is not shared by the IHCA. Mr Varley said: “The IHCA and its hospital consultant members have no confidence that the loss in private health insurance income to public hospitals will be replaced by the exchequer.”
He welcomed the report’s singling out of the Government decision in October 2012 to curtail hospital consultants’ pay to its current €131,000 per annum as the key factor responsible for the current situation which sees one in five of the required consultant positions across Irish hospitals unfilled.
Mr Harris had hitherto pledged to commence pay talks with consultants from next month. A firm date for those talks has yet to be established.
Mr Varley said the report’s recommendations, if carried out, would “result in an extreme two-tier system with functioning and adequately resourced private hospitals operating separately in parallel with an under-resourced and overcrowded public hospital system”.
“Patients cannot be forced to pay the price for ideology over pragmatism,” he said.