Private hospital set to close without VHI deal

THE country’s newest and most advanced private hospital will close within months unless the VHI provides health cover.

The stark warning from Joe Sheehan, chief executive of Sheehan Medical which developed the €90 million Cork Medical Centre (CMC), came ahead of crucial talks between both sides in Dublin today.

Mr Sheehan said up to 500 jobs are now on the line. But he remained hopeful of a positive outcome.

“We have been through this process before in Dublin and Galway,” he said. “Normally the turnaround time is very fast — up to two months. We’re now waiting over six months and there is no end in sight.

“It’s quite obvious we can’t have a €90m expense, if we have no revenue.

“We’re in a serious condition. If the VHI will not give the normal approval expected, we will be removing important medical services from the community.”

CMC, which opened last October, is covered by Quinn Healthcare and Aviva.

Mr Sheehan insisted the VHI had indicated verbally on several occasions, including as recently as January, it would cover the hospital. But the claim was disputed by the VHI last night.

“No verbal assurance of cover was given by VHI Healthcare to Sheehan Medical Group regarding the Cork Medical Centre,” a spokesperson said.

Mr Sheehan briefed the centre’s 75 staff on the situation yesterday after they were placed on a month’s notice. A further 20 people due to start work at CMC next week are facing an uncertain future. Several operations scheduled for March have been cancelled.

Mr Sheehan said second phase finance has been agreed for CMC, but cannot be drawn down until the VHI agrees in writing to provide cover.

But the VHI said it still believes there was excess capacity in the private hospital marketplace. “We first advised CMC in August 2009 of this position and they chose to go ahead with fitting out the new facility,” the spokesperson said.

“To date, any proposals we have received from the hospital have not demonstrated any meaningful savings or any innovation in terms of medical services for our customers.”

CMC staff member Seamus Roche, who left a post at the Whitfield Clinic in Waterford to take up a job in the hospital’s scheduling office, said staff are very worried about the future.

CMC’s pharmacy manager Muireann Ryan gave up a job at the Galway Clinic to work at CMC. “This is the best facility I’ve worked in. We didn’t anticipate there would be any problem. The VHI should sort it out.”

Picture: James Sheehan, chief executive of Sheehan Medical, at the Cork Medical Centre, Mahon, Cork. Picture: Denis Scannell

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