The chronic overcrowding plaguing the country’s hospitals will not be solved with private care units providing beds for the public, it was claimed today.
With plans drawn up to create 3,000 more beds by allowing private hospitals to build on the campus of state care facilities, the Irish Medical Organisation warned the scheme would be overly reliant on the private sector.
Under the system devised by Tánaiste Mary Harney it is hoped hundreds of beds for public patients will be freed up over the next five years.
Dr Asam Ishtiaq, IMO president, welcomed the move but he warned the scheme would allow private units to cherry-pick patients rather than increasing overall bed capacity.
“This plan alone cannot deal with the chronic over-crowding which currently afflicts our hospitals,” he said.
Dr Ishtiaq said the Government’s Health Strategy launched in 2001 clearly identified the need for an extra 3,000 beds over 10 years but he claimed after almost four years only 400 “real” beds had been delivered.
“Admittedly, private hospital bed capacity can be provided faster than public capacity,” he said.
“However, the private system cherry-picks elective cases such as hip replacement but will not take trauma or emergency cases. Capital allowances for private hospitals are a poor use of taxpayers’ money. Priority should be given to the building of public bed capacity.”
The IMO highlighted the crisis by pointing to a Government report from 2002 which showed the number of acute hospital beds in Ireland was among the lowest across both EU and OECD countries.
Dr Christine O’Malley, IMO vice president, said the crisis was reflected most in the care for sick elderly patients.
“Because private hospitals cater to elective patients rather than to emergency or acutely ill patients, private beds don’t have the same value for patients as public beds,” Dr O’Malley said.
“Private hospitals do not take emergencies yet 71% of all admissions to public hospitals are emergencies.”
She said beds per 1,000 elderly over 65 years were down from 42 per 1,000 elderly population in 1968 to 23 per 1,000 elderly population in 2001.
“It’s not that Irish families no longer care, it’s more that the State is no longer providing care in public institutions so families are forced to pay huge sums for nursing home care,” she said.
With a new round of talks on contracts for consultants due in October, Ms Harney said most senior doctors were keen to offer private and public practice from the one site.
The Tánaiste said any initiatives put in place to improve the health service had to recognise that the state had a mixed health system with 52% of the population on private health insurance.
It costs up to €500,000 to provide a new hospital bed, and about €300,000 euro a year to staff and run one. Private developers will be bearing this cost under the plan.
And while public hospitals will lose income they get from private patients under the plan – currently they receive €220m euro a year from the 2,500 private beds in public hospitals – it is felt the benefit of gaining extra beds in public hospitals will be sufficient compensation.