Harris hits out at ‘knee-jerk responses’ to public-private move

Health Minister Simon Harris has responded to the report on removing private care from public hospitals by saying he believes “passionately” in universal health care.

Harris hits out at ‘knee-jerk responses’ to public-private move

Additonal reporting by Cianan Brennan

Health Minister Simon Harris has responded to the report on removing private care from public hospitals by saying he believes “passionately” in universal health care.

Mr Harris said those who do not believe that such a scenario can be achieved should reflect on how universal free secondary education was first introduced in the State by former Fianna Fáil minister, the late Donogh O’Malley.

“Many years ago, a minister believed in introducing the concept of free education,” said Mr Harris. “He was told time and time again you couldn’t do it. They did it. These things are costly, they’re complex. They don’t deserve knee-jerk responses.

And I do think it’s a little disappointing that some of the vested interests had statements out so quickly that they couldn’t possibly have read the report.”

The Irish Hospital Consultants Association and the Irish Medical Organisation both released statements casting doubt on the need to remove private care from hospitals, and suggesting that recruiting more doctors should be the key to breaking the current logjam.

Meanwhile, the private health insurance industry has reacted to the report of Donal de Buitléir, which was launched yesterday after a six-month delay, describing the move to a 100% public system as “an extremely complex challenge”.

Ireland’s three largest health insurers — VHI, Laya Healthcare, and Irish Life — issued a statement via the industry's representative body, Insurance Ireland.

“Private health insurers play an important role in supporting the national healthcare system in Ireland by contributing to its operational and financial sustainability,” they said.

Insurance Ireland notes the publication of the de Buitléir report and believes the goal of separating private practice from public hospitals would be an extremely complex challenge requiring further consideration so that any changes are not to the detriment of patients.

The de Buitléir report has suggested a 10-year time frame would be necessary for the implementation of its recommendations, at a cost of €6.6bn for phasing private care out of the public system.

It further recommended that consultants’ starting salaries should be increased by €51,000 per annumn to €182,000 to fill the vacancy backlog in the system which sees one in five such posts currently unfilled.

Currently, 370 such vacancies exist — a fact which is commonly perceived as being the main driver of extended waiting lists in Irish hospitals.

Consultant salaries in the public system were slashed by the Government in October 2012. This is generally seen as the reason for the glut of vacancies, with highly skilled practitioners unwilling to accept relatively poorly-paid salaries in the public system.

Dr de Buitléir conceded in his report that the impact on private health insurance of his recommendations would be “difficult to predict” given the complex nature of the market.

While insurance premiums could fall as a result of people who primarily receive their private treatments in public hospitals in the future instead engaging with the public system, a fall in the number of people insured, particularly among younger people, would likely see an overall increase in premiums for those retaining private cover, the report said.

Private insurance income for public hospitals in Ireland stands at €524m per year — income expected to leave the public system should public and private care be separated.

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