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Health Minister rejects ‘myth’ that private hospitals are lying empty

Simon Harris says capacity in private hospitals is still needed in case there is a surge in Covid-19 cases.

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Minister for Health Simon Harris (Brian Lawless/PA)

Minister for Health Simon Harris (Brian Lawless/PA)

Minister for Health Simon Harris (Brian Lawless/PA)

Health Minister Simon Harris has dismissed calls for the Government to end its deal with private hospitals, saying the extra capacity is still needed in case there is a surge in Covid-19 cases.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin said the Government deal with private hospitals has to be reviewed because millions of euro are being spent on capacity that is not being used.

Private hospitals became part of the public health system for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic in March.

Some 2,000 beds, nine laboratories and thousands of staff were drafted into the public system.

It is a perfectly legitimate question to ask about why we are spending many millions on hospital capacity that we do not believe we will needMicheal Martin, Fianna Fail

Last month, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Dail the deal is costing the taxpayer 115 million euro per month.

Mr Martin said the deal with private hospitals should end as the anticipated surge in coronavirus cases has not materialised.

Speaking in the Dail on Thursday, he said: “For months it has been clear that this surge capacity is not likely to be required at present.

“The private hospital deal has been very expensive and I understand the rationale behind it, but it has been coupled now with a wider under-utilisation of capacity.

“It is a perfectly legitimate question to ask about why we are spending many millions on hospital capacity that we do not believe we will need and we could quickly re-contract if an unexpected surge were to happen.”

Mr Harris said taxpayers own the use of all the private hospitals in the country until the end of June and there is the opportunity to extend it after that.

He said while the expected surge has not happened, it still could.

Mr Harris said: “Thankfully we have not seen the surge we have feared and that is a fair point, but we still may see the surge. So we believe we still need that capacity.”

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A medical worker gives two thumbs up at St James’s Hospital in Dublin (Brian Lawless/PA)

A medical worker gives two thumbs up at St James’s Hospital in Dublin (Brian Lawless/PA)

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A medical worker gives two thumbs up at St James’s Hospital in Dublin (Brian Lawless/PA)

He pointed to the Bons Secours Hospital in Cork that was 82% occupied last month and the Mater Private Hospital in Dublin that was 60% occupied.

“There is a myth that these hospitals are empty,” he said.

“We have all this extra capacity and it has to be used. There has to be an equality of access – we can’t effectively own the private hospitals and effectively have a difference in care for public and private patients.”

Fianna Fail TD Stephen Donnelly told the minister it is time to cancel the contract with private hospitals.

He said: “The reason for taking over the private hospitals back in March was completely understandable. It provided an extra 2,000 beds in the event of a big surge in Covid-19 cases in our hospital network.

“At this point, health officials agree that this is no longer required. While there are many people whose lives have been upended by this horrendous virus, the threat of overwhelming our health service has thankfully not materialised.

“The HSE and the Department of Health envisaged that private hospitals would be used for routine scheduled care in order to tackle the increasing waiting lists. They are failing to realise their own ambition.”

PA