Treatment fund silent on hospitals

THE National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) which has paid out millions of euro to private hospitals for treating patients on public waiting lists is refusing to reveal which hospitals are getting the money.

The fund has doled out €12.52 million to private hospitals in the Republic so far this year, compared with just €500,000 to private hospitals in Northern Ireland and €160,000 to private hospitals in Britain.

However, hospitals in the Republic being paid for work through the fund have told the NTPF that they should not be identified for reasons of commercial sensitivity.

Private hospitals in Ireland are already heavily subsidised by public funds and doctors’ groups and the Opposition have criticised the secrecy over the purchase fund payments, arguing the public’s right to know how its taxes were being spent.

Dr Christine O’Malley of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) said there was a suspicion that the fund was merely replacing money that had been cut from the public hospital budget.

The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) questioned whether the stream of funds to private hospitals was leaving public hospitals even more short of money.

Assistant secretary general Donal Duffy urged the NTPF to reveal the private hospitals involved so that flow of resources to each sector could be traced and compared. The purchase fund was a public body and should be publicly accountable.

Labour health spokesperson Liz McManus said the Government had a vested interest in keeping details of the pay-outs secret. “They don’t want us to know how it compares, if they were to spend that money on setting up a public bed in a public hospital to provide the same treatment, because it probably wouldn’t compare well.”

The treatment fund allows public patients to be referred to private and/or public hospitals in Ireland and Britain, if they have been on a waiting list for a procedure for longer than one year in the case of adults and six months in the case of children.

By the end of the year, it is intended that no patient will be on a waiting list for longer than one year in the case of adults and six months for children.

Hospitals used by the fund include the major private Dublin hospitals, St Vincent’s Private, Blackrock Clinic, Mater Private, Mount Carmel, Bon Secours and Cappagh. Clane General Hospital, Co Kildare, and Bon Secours Hospitals in Cork, Tralee and Galway have also been used.

A Department of Health spokesperson said the fund was the only guaranteed way of targeting funds specifically at long-waiting patients. The spokesperson added that a detailed breakdown was not being released because it would reduce the bargaining power of the NTPF, but Liz McManus dismissed this explanation.

“I don’t accept that argument - taxpayers’ money is being diverted to the private sector and at the very least we should know if we’re getting value for money,” she said.

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