State takeover of private hospitals costs €300m for three months

The State's agreement to take over private hospitals will cost around €300 million for three months.
State takeover of private hospitals costs €300m for three months
Liam Woods, national director of acute services at the HSE

The State's agreement to take over private hospitals will cost around €300 million for three months.

The deal, which saw the State take over the operations of 19 hospitals for the duration of the Covid-19 emergency, was estimated to be costing the exchequer €115 million a month. However, the Oireachtas Special Committee on Covid-19 heard that the cost will be lower.

Last week, the Taoiseach announced that the deal would not be renewed at the end of this month, amid questions around its cost and the fact that usage of the hospitals was considerably below the worst-case scenario.

Liam Woods, national director of acute services at the HSE, told Sinn Féin's David Cullinane it would cost somewhere in the region of €100 million a month for the months of April, May and June.

"The cost until the end of April was €97 million. The cost is based on what work is actually getting done, so it will vary slightly. It would appear that it will be between €97 million and €100 million per month. Those are estimates; the first cost is a validated figure."

The Irish Hospital Consultants Association, which represents consultants across the health service, told the committee: "The test of time has confirmed that the private hospital agreement, which is costing around €115million per month, represents very poor value for money from patient care and taxpayer perspectives.

"The experience is that of very low private hospital bed capacity occupancy at around one third on average and low utilisation of theatre and other ancillary facilities.

"The fact that patient access to hospital care is deteriorating at a time when the State is now paying €115 million per month for under-utilised private hospitals defies logic."

However Jim Breslin, Secretary General of the Department of Health, said he did not agree with that assessment.

"We looked at different means of securing this capacity. A full cost-benefit would ask the question of whether or not we really wanted the capacity: that question was answered for us. We were staring that question of whether we needed that capacity in the face every night on the 9pm news.

"To me, that sounds like a fire alarm went off and we sent four fire tenders to put out the fire and people are now saying we only should have sent three. I am very happy that we sent four fire tenders because what if it needed more than three?"

The HSE's statement to the committee said hospitals will not be able to meet physical distancing requirements.

"Our existing infrastructure in many of our public hospitals is not fit for purpose in terms of meeting the emerging requirements in terms of safe distancing.”

The Irish Medical Organisation's Anthony O'Connor told the committee the crisis has shown that public patients can no longer be left out of the private system.

"We need to see a roadmap by which that care can open as soon as possible for everybody, not just for private patients but for public patients too. One could have a situation where the private sector is allowed to operate as it normally does but the public patients are still completely locked out of all elective care and all cancer care."

More in this section

Lunchtime News Wrap

A lunchtime summary of content highlights on the Irish Examiner website. Delivered at 1pm each day.

Sign up