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Simon Harris and Alan Kelly pictured in 2015
Simon Harris and Alan Kelly pictured in 2015
Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews,ie

Alan Kelly says his prediction of 'hell in our hospitals' has come true

He wants private hospital facilities to be used to help ease the pressure on emergency departments in public hospitals.
Jan 4th 2017, 8:00 PM 21,942 91

ALAN KELLY HAS again called on Health Minister Simon Harris to pave the way for facilities in private hospitals to be opened up for state use to help alleviate pressure on emergency departments (EDs) in public hospitals.

Kelly, Labour’s health spokesperson, has raised the issue with Harris on a number of occasions.

The Health Minister hasn’t ruled it out, saying he is in talks with private hospitals about the issue, but it isn’t straightforward.

Kelly previously told the Dáil a bad flu epidemic would lead to “hell in our emergency departments“.

The Labour TD today told TheJournal.ie this prediction has now been realised.

“I have been raising this with Minister Harris for months – in the Dáil and the health committee … In October, I predicted there would be hell in our EDs this winter.”

Kelly acknowledges that extra resources have been put into hospitals through the Winter Initiative but said this is not enough, something made clear by the record number of people waiting on hospital trolleys – over 600 today.

He said it’s “absolutely incredible that during such a crisis we now have private hospitals actually advertising for patients, while there are over 600 people on trolleys in public emergency departments”.

That this is happening in 2017 is absolutely disgraceful, incredible and immoral.

“This is not a long-term solution, but it could help in the short-term.

“We do have an incredibly difficult situation. At this stage it’s a national emergency and we need to think outside the box.”

In talks with private hospitals 

When Kelly raised the issue with Harris in the Dáil in October, the Health Minister said: “I have no role in regulating the activities of private hospitals at present.

“Emergency departments in public hospitals provide comprehensive 24-7 emergency care to all patients regardless of health insurance status. Currently, no emergency department in a private hospital offers a 24-hour service and only a minority provide services at weekends.

My department is engaging with private hospitals on their potential to contribute to meeting the demand for acute services, right across a range of services. There is already significant experience in using the services of such hospitals to assist in addressing lengthy waiting times for scheduled care.

“An example of such collaboration is that this year €20 million is being allocated to the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF), rising to €55 million in 2018. I envisage the NTPF utilising both the public and the private hospitals to reduce waiting lists.”

During an Oireachtas health committee meeting in November, Harris told Kelly there was “merit” in his suggestion.

“I know there is merit in it because my officials and I have met representatives of the Private Hospitals Association. We will document that for the deputy.”

Kelly claims he has not heard back from Harris’ department about the issue.

‘Not a silver bullet’ 

Kelly told us his suggestion is “not a silver bullet”, rather “one part of the equation to get us over the hump”.

Kelly acknowledges that private hospitals don’t have the same capacity as public ones but said they could deal with minor and medium-level issues, diverting people away from crowded EDs – something they would be reimbursed for.

Simon Nugent, CEO of the Private Hospitals Association, said private hospitals in Ireland treat more than 1,000 patients in their EDs every week, telling TheJournal.ie: “Each one is a patient that would increase the pressure on public hospital A & Es were it not for our services.

“This winter the association is also working with both the Department of Health and the HSE to develop partnerships between public and private systems to relieve the pressure on beds in public hospitals on a planned basis.”

TheJournal.ie has contacted the Department of Health for comment.

Flu epidemic 

Speaking to Newstalk Breakfast today, Harris said: “You couldn’t possibly have predicted the level and strength of the influenza at this time of the year, it’s not comparable with any recent years.

“How we respond to this is something that we should be judged on.

The HSE were out visiting most of our hospitals yesterday and they talked to frontline staff, they talked to management and they’ve come back with a range of things they’d like to see done to support the hospitals … they have until Thursday to come back to me with a plan.

Kelly said Harris’ comment about not being able to predict the crisis “doesn’t stand up to scrutiny” and is “incredibly naive” given similar issues in previous years.

The Irish Medical Organisation called on politicians to “stop blaming flu” for the overcrowding, saying lack of beds and staff are the root causes. Harris said attempts are being made to address these issues.

Read: Harris says he should be judged on response to Emergency Department situation

Read: Alan Kelly wants state access to private hospitals to avoid ‘hell in our emergency departments’

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Órla Ryan

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