Health Minister Mary Harney was warned yesterday the future development of a bigger private hospital sector in this country is in danger due to VHI policy.
Adare Manor owner Tom Kane, who is finalising plans for a new private hospital in the grounds of the manor, said VHI still refuse to indicate if they will cover its patients.
He warned he will have to abandon the project if private insurer Bupa pulls out of the Irish market.
Bupa say they may quit the Irish market if they are forced to pay VHI to help provide cover for the elderly.
Mr Kane said the Adare private hospital will be ready by 2008. Plans are set to be lodged with Limerick County Council later this year. The hospital will not provide A&E, maternity or paediatric care.
Mr Kane said: “Maternity cover is prohibitively expensive. There is an A&E six miles away in the Mid-Western Regional Hospital and we don’t have a sufficiently big catchment area for a paediatric unit.”
His main concern centres on the current stand-off between Bupa and VHI over the payment Bupa is being asked to make to VHI.
Mr Kane said: “If Bupa were to pull out of Ireland, it would spike the Adare hospital. It would be a disaster as VHI refuse to give a commitment to private hospitals that they will cover patients when they open.
If Bupa pull out we could not take a chance on whether our patients would have cover from VHI.”
The former University of Limerick President, Dr Ed Walsh, joined the attack saying Limerick would have had a 100-bed private hospital by now, but for the obstacles imposed by VHI.
Dr Walsh was a director of the Bons Secours Hospitals, which were in detailed talks with the former Mid-Western Health Board six years ago to open a new private hospital in Limerick.
Dr Walsh said: “VHI were the key obstacle as they would not indicate if our patients would get cover from them. VHI have been most unhelpful and only for them we would now have a 100-bed private hospital in Limerick.”
He said VHI’s dominant position makes their approval essential.
Dr Walsh said: “They are the single biggest obstacle inhibiting the creation of private hospital beds, which in turn would free up more public beds. The business plan for any new private hospital must depend on getting clearance from VHI. If VHI are equivocal, even the most robust of business people will not proceed because there is a big hole in the plan.”
Former Health Minister Michael Noonan accused VHI of running their monopoly too restrictively.
He said: “VHI will have to change their tune, particularly in light of the announcement of the Health Minister that the private sector will play a greater role in the provision of health services in this country.”
But he defended the decision to have Bupa pay VHI to maintain the community rating system of insurance cover.
He said VHI had a bigger proportion of elderly to cover and Bupa knew of the requirement when they came into this country.