Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has said that the health service should be using all of the available capacity that the private hospital sector can provide to tackle the strains of Covid-19 and high waiting lists.
The health minister was the keynote speaker this morning at the conference of the Private Hospitals Association in Dublin.
He began his speech by acknowledging the “very important contribution” of private hospitals and their staff to the “national effort” during Covid-19.
"The additional capacity and staff that have been provided have been essential in our response to Covid," he said, adding that high transmission rates and growing case numbers are placing an “unsustainable” strain on the health service.
The measures introduced by Government last week, including the work-from-home advice and restricted hours for bars and restaurants, would add to other steps being taken to mitigate the impact of Covid-19.
This includes the “intensifying engagement with the private hospitals," Mr Donnelly said.
He pointed to the impact of vaccines and said the booster programme has, as of Tuesday, administered 630,000 vaccines.
The rollout of boosters to those with underlying conditions will begin next week.
“This is very important as over 80% of our Covid ICU patients have an underlying condition and, for our vaccinated Covid ICU patients, 98% of them have an underlying condition,” he said.
Boosters for this cohort could help in “taking the strain back off our hospital system”, the minister said.
An “unprecedented strain” on the health service due to Covid means that a “whole of system” approach is needed to address it, he said.
This includes additional funding and resources to tackle waiting lists and in critical care beds, with private capacity used to help supplement these efforts.
The funding for health services in the future includes additional funds for the National Treatment Purchase Fund in a bit to reduce waiting lists. It will have a total fund of €150m.
“The increase in the NTPF’s budget is a reflection of the importance I attach to it and by extension yourselves in tackling this issue.”
Mr Donnelly also spoke to the plans to increase the critical care capacity in hospitals.
Pre-pandemic, there were 255 critical care beds, he said. This has risen to 297. It is hoped to raise this further to 340 by the end of next year or early in 2023.
The goal beyond that is for a total permanent critical care capacity of 446 across the system.
“I believe that universal health care is the single most important project of our times," he said.
“I believe that every man and woman, every girl and boy should be able to access the best quality health care when they need us… I believe we can make and must make this a reality in our country.”