Health Minister Simon Harris has said he wants protocols introduced to deal with hospital patients who have private insurance and are also entitled to free treatment.

His comments come amid claims vulnerable patients with private cover are being pressurised into waiving their rights to free care in order to speed up treatment.

Mr Harris said legislation introduced in 2013 provides that when private patients are treated in public hospitals, their insurers pay towards the cost of treatment.

“I have instructed that the Department of Health and the HSE would liaise with the insurance companies to make sure there is a consistency in terms of how that is being applied right across the health service,” said Mr Harris.

“I think that’s right and proper in the interest of all patients, public and private.

“It is obviously important that private insurance companies do contribute when they use public health facilities. We can’t have a situation where those who don’t have health insurance are at a disadvantage.

“I expect the Department of Health and the HSE will meet with the insurance industry, will work with them to ensure there is a consistency of application, and a very clear protocol in place in terms of when patients are asked to sign a form and when they are not.”

Mr Harris said every nurse graduating this year will be offered jobs in the Irish healthcare service and it will not be necessary to go abroad to get work.

Mr Harris made his comments as he officially opened a €24m emergency department at University Hospital Limerick.

He said he was shocked at what he encountered in the old emergency department, with staff having to work in an environment where it was not possible to provide dignified privacy and decency of care for patients.

“This is a fantastic development and will vastly improve the experience and comfort of patients and their families, and provide staff with a fitting workplace environment,” he said.

The new department occupies the ground floor of both the €40m critical care block which opened in late 2014 and the more recently constructed dialysis unit at first-floor level. It is over three times the size of the old department.

Almost 100 additional staff have been recruited, and the department has increased capacity for patients and has been designed with the input of senior clinicians to improve patient flow, reduce patient experience times, and improve outcomes for the sickest patients.

Colette Cowan, chief executive of UL Hospitals Group, said: “Since opening the department two weeks ago, we have been heartened by the response of patients and their families and of our own staff. It has been designed very much with patient comfort in mind. Small design details stand out everywhere you look, for example with non-slip floors, better signage, and handrails to allow elderly patients better navigate the department.”


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