CONSULTANTS are under pressure from the Health Service Executive to categorise patients being treated in public hospitals as private patients in order to bring more money into the system, the Irish Hospital Consultant Association (IHCA) has claimed.
IHCA general secretary, Finbarr Fitzpatrick, stressed that the public/private mix of patients was beyond the control of consultants, with up to 30% of patients with private health insurance being admitted through emergency departments.
He believed an impression had been created, not only by the HSE, but by ill-informed media commentary, that consultants working in public hospitals were re-categorising private patients as public, because they had exceeded their quota of private patients.
Under their contract, public hospital consultants may see 20% or 30% of private patients but breaching these levels triggers an obligation for them to pay monies into hospital research funds.
The fine detail about how the public/private mix is evaluated has yet to be agreed between the HSE and the IHCA.
Mr Fitzpatrick said the health authority had more to gain from having private patients treated in public hospitals because it received millions of euro every year from health insurers for providing private in-patient accommodation.
He also believed the leakage of information in regard to consultants’ patient mix was an effort by the HSE to divert attention away from other problems within the health service.
“They (HSE) will exert quite a lot of pressure on consultants at the same time to categorise patients as private and send out bills and so on,” said Mr Fitzpatrick.
Mr Fitzpatrick was speaking at the launch of the IHCA’s pre-Budget submission that warns against further cuts to frontline services.
IHCA president, Margo Wrigley, said something had to give, with demand for health services increasing. “It cannot be the health of people,” she stressed.
Dr Wrigley said frontline services were already under pressure as a result of a cut of more than €1bn in health spending this year.
“Trolley waits of several days before people are admitted to an acute bed are so common-place that they are barely mentioned any more. Patients themselves almost expect this which is a sad indictment of the service that we can provide now.”
Dr Wrigley said frontline health services must have a greater call on resources than any other area of Government expenditure.
“The moratorium on nursing staff has been particularly devastating. In psychiatry we have lost well over 600 psychiatric nurses in the past year.”
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