Private hospitals can alleviate the huge pressure on public hospitals by taking their private patients.
The transfer of patients with private health insurance is a key consideration in the Oireachtas Committee on the Future of Healthcare’s blueprint for the health service over the next decade. The blueprint is to be published shortly.
With 650,000 people on waiting lists for hospital services, the committee is looking for ways to free up public beds. The chair of the committee, Roisin Shorthall, confirmed that the transfer of patients to private facilities was being examined.
“Over recent years, private income targets have been set for public hospitals and this incentivises taking in private patients and that happens at the expense of public patients,” she said.
Ms Shorthall said that the transfer would be a loss of private income for the public hospitals, but she said it was more important that there be a high-quality public health system accessible by patients in a timely manner.
The committee’s report is to be finalised over the coming days and should be published before the end of this month.
Simon Nugent, chief executive of the Private Hospitals Association, said it makes sense to take patients with private health insurance out of the public system.
“This initiative could be implemented very quickly,” he said.
“The transfer of patients could commence in the first year of a new strategy, rather than waiting until year two, as suggested by the committee.”
“Private hospitals have the cutting-edge diagnostics, beds, personnel at consultant level, and the outcomes to justify such a move. We make approximately one million bed nights available to the Irish healthcare system each year and employ over 8,100 healthcare professionals across Ireland.”
He said a growing capacity, and range of specialities, in the private system contrasted with its public counterpart.
“The public system has fewer beds than it did in 1980 and this initiative could free up much-needed beds to help treat public patients,” said Mr Nugent.
“This would be a significant step in disentangling our mixed systems and helping patients access treatment quickly.”
“The process of healthcare reform can also help establish a level playing field between the private and public systems. We believe the current strategy of double-charging private patients for beds in public hospitals, and charging private patients 10 times the public rate, is a flawed one.
"This undermines confidence in the value of private health insurance and directly raises premiums. Such increases trigger a downgrading of policies, shifting demand back towards public hospitals.”
Mr Nugent said private health care providers would be willing to invest in additional beds and operating theatres, if there was certainty that more privately insured patients would be referred to them.
“The mid-term review of the Government’s Capital Plan offers an opportunity to stimulate more private sector investment, as well as public capital in health infrastructure,” he said.
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