Many people use the SwiftCare Clinics for minor injuries to avoid going to a busy hospital emergency department and waiting hours for treatment.
The State-owned health insurer said the decision was made to ensure “speed of access” for VHI customers to the SwiftCare Clinics developed for patients with minor injuries and illnesses.
VHI has taken full ownership of the SwiftCare Clinics, a move announced earlier this year, so the decision to only allow its customers to have access is no surprise.
Last month the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission cleared the way for VHI to acquire the clinics that it had jointly owned since 2005 with Centric Health.
There are three SwiftCare Clinics in Ireland. The clinics are in Dundrum and Swords in Dublin and Mahon, Cork. They are open 365 days a year from 8am to 10pm.
It cost €125 for a walk-in consultation with a doctor and the clinics have been treating more than 75,000 patients with urgent care injuries every year.
Latest accounts for VHI Investments Limited show that the clinics achieved a turnover of €13.8m in 2015 and a pre-tax profit of €2.8m.
VHI’s director of marketing and business development, Declan Moran, said the SwiftCare Clinics have become so popular that VHI customers have “sometimes struggled” to access them.
Mr Moran said they also decided to broaden cover so all of their customers will have some cover when they visit a SwiftCare Clinic.
Health insurance expert Dermot Goode said operating the clinics for VHI members only is a “clever move” and an excellent one for its members but it would not be welcomed by other private health insurance companies.
Mr Goode of TotalHealthCover.ie said the move is no surprise to him, but it will shock people who are not insured with the VHI and who have used the clinics for years.
SwiftCare Clinics will become a dedicated service for VHI members only from September 1.
A new VHI package will be available on all hospital plans, so members will only have to pay €50 of the initial €125 SwiftCare consultation charge. The most they will have to pay for any follow-up visit will be €150.
Mr Goode said other insurance companies will have to react to the VHI’s decision.
“There will be a reaction — that is the benefit of competition in the private sector, but it might not happen as quickly as some people would like,” he said.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved