The chief executive of the HSE has lambasted Dublin’s Beacon private hospital for not offering beds, despite “extremely tightened up” capacity across the country during “the biggest health crisis in the history of the state”.
However, the hospital has said it is already "doing all that it can to support the public system".
It comes as the INMO has warned that healthcare workers and long-term care residents must remain to be the absolute first priority groups for vaccination.
Paul Reid, who was speaking to Katie Hannon on RTÉ Radio One, blasted management of the Beacon for failing to sign up to a deal to allow the HSE to use beds in private hospitals in order to tackle the current Covid-19 crisis.
“I do have to express my extreme frustration that the Beacon hasn’t signed up to that agreement. We have our public health system facing the biggest crisis, probably, in the history of the state for our health services.
“We have a fantastic team of people across all our hospitals, including private, working relentlessly. But we are racing to save people’s lives here. It is beyond frustration for me, and it is beyond belief and comprehension, and I would be urging the board to sign up to the Safety Net agreement.”
Beacon management said in response that a vaccination centre was offered to HSE healthcare workers free of charge as a goodwill gesture.
"While engagement is ongoing with the HSE regarding a new centralised arrangement, the Beacon Hospital is of the view that it can treat more public and private patients through its existing arrangements, rather than through an additional new agreement."
Mr Reid said Ireland’s health system has formally gone into surge capacity, with intensive care beds dwindling.
“It is extremely tightened up. In terms of available beds...we have surged that up to around 313...we have 28 beds available for adults and 12 paediatrics at the moment. It is getting extremely tight.”
There are about 480 general beds available across the system, he added.
In terms of intensive care patients, there are around another 250 that were borderline or in the so-called “amber zone”, he said.
“There are still around 250 people not in ICU, but who would be receiving that kind of intensive supports, particularly in terms of oxygen and sometime high-flow oxygen supports,” Mr Reid said.
In terms of mass vaccinations, he said he was “not happy whatsoever” with Pfizer’s initial announcement of a temporary stoppage in deliveries, but added that once the situation became clearer, it would mean a delay of around a week to the schedule.
“Thankfully...it won’t have the impact initially projected. We are looking at one week with a shorter supply, but then getting back to committed supply, and the middle of February, getting extra supplies.”
A quarter of nursing homes across the country have had outbreaks, which made vaccination key, he said.
About 8,000 residents and staff received their first dose so far, with two weeks until 100% is completed.
“However, our programme now for nursing homes is accelerated between this week and throughout next week. By the middle of February, they will have had their second vaccination. So it is a priority.
“Our plan primarily for next week was nursing homes, that was the primary focus, and it was the following week that we would revert back to primary healthcare workers in acute and community settings. The plan continues as projected next week.
“Obviously we will have to recalibrate based on one week less supply...but in essence, we will have done the private nursing homes and that will be completed with no impact, it will just mean a lesser volume for healthcare workers for that week. But we are in a better place than we thought yesterday afternoon.”
The Beacon Hospital has said in a statement that it has not signed an additional centralised agreement because it is not willing to give Clinical Governance to the HSE.
“The last HSE Agreement, which Beacon Hospital signed up to, in April to June last year, allowing the HSE take clinical control, led to the hospital being 70% empty for three months,” the statement read.
“As Beacon Hospital is at full capacity now, treating both private and public patients, we cannot take the risk of allowing HSE direct clinical governance lead to under-utilisation.”
The hospital added that it is “already wearing the green jersey”, saying that it “is currently treating more public patients than the HSE agreement envisages or asks for and has been doing this for over four months”.
The statement adds: “Beacon Hospital is treating more public patients than any of the 17 other private hospitals.
“Public patients currently occupy over 55% of our Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and approximately 15%-20% of all surgery for the last four months has been done on behalf of public hospitals such as the Mater Public, St James’ Hospital, Tallaght, Children’s Health Ireland (Crumlin), Tullamore and University Hospital Limerick under existing arrangements.”
It concluded: “Beacon Hospital remains committed to doing all that it can to support the public system and the country during this time of crisis and is preparing to take more public patients during the days and weeks ahead.
“It has also made a vaccination centre available to the HSE this week and has vaccinated more than 1,000 HSE frontline workers to date.”
The INMO has also warned that healthcare workers and long-term care residents “must continue to be the absolute first priority groups” for vaccination.
The warning comes as the union stated that in the last two weeks for which data is available, 5,019 healthcare workers tested positive for the virus with 23% of those among nurses and midwives.
“Let me be crystal clear,” stated General Secretary, Phil Ní Sheaghdha. “INMO members have cooperated with redeployment and worked dutifully under increased risks, all in the interest of patient safety. To continue this approach healthcare workers must receive the vaccine as a priority.
“There is a vaccination plan. It is agreed, it is clear, and the government should stick to it.
“Tens of thousands of healthcare workers have caught this virus. They did so because – even in the times of most extreme pressure – they have turned up to work and provided care. This includes students and interns, who have taken great risks on no or low pay.
“It would be frankly obscene if other groups were being vaccinated while healthcare workers and the most vulnerable elderly go without. The only thing delaying vaccines for healthcare workers and the elderly should be supply.
“Rumours that other groups will be placed ahead of healthcare workers for vaccination are deeply unhelpful to frontline staff. The government should make clear that it is holding firm and sticking to the plan.”