HSE CEO Paul Reid unveiled the health service's Winter Plan late last month. Gareth Chaney/PA Images
winter ahead

HSE still in talks to secure private hospital capacity amid NPHET warning of potential Covid surge

The Department of Health has sanctioned up to €25 million to treat public patients in private hospitals temporarily pending a new arrangement.

THE HSE IS engaged with all of the private hospitals in the country “on two fronts” to try to secure capacity in the event of a Covid surge in the coming months, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has said.

The takeover of private hospitals at the beginning of the pandemic cost the State €305 million over the space of three months, and talks remain ongoing between the HSE and private hospitals to access private capacity again heading into the winter.

The latest news from Donnelly comes after the HSE last week re-issued a tender aimed at securing private hospital capacity for non-Covid care to help the health service cope with the “enduring impact of Covid-19″.

Until that procurement process is completed, the Department of Health has temporarily sanctioned spending of up to €25 million for the treatment of public patients in private hospitals. This spending follows over €300 million to secure private hospital capacity earlier this year and an expected €59 million spend by the HSE next year.

There have been repeated warnings that the health service may struggle to cope in the event of a sharp rise in hospitalisations and those requiring intensive care due to Covid-19 in the coming months. 

According to the latest HSE data, there were 147 patients with Covid-19 in Irish hospitals last night. A further 23 people were receiving treatment in intensive care. 

In his letter advising the government to move to Level 5 lockdown restrictions, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan sounded warnings about how the current figures were developing, including in hospitals.

He said: “In the week to 27 September there was an average of eight admissions per day to hospital. In the week to 3 October, there was an average of 12 per day, with 17 new confirmed cases in the last 24 hours. 

There has been an increase in the average number of admissions to critical care from one per day on 29 September to an average of two per day on 4 October. Of note, at the peak of admissions, there were eight admissions to critical care on average per day.

Modelling had indicated that 43 people with Covid-19 could be admitted to hospital per day by 7 November, if urgent action wasn’t taken. 

While the government declined to go to Level 5, and opted for Level 3 restrictions instead, close attention will be paid to hospital admissions and ICU capacity in the coming days and weeks.

Last night, however, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the assessment that hospitals could soon be overwhelmed wasn’t shared by HSE CEO Paul Reid. 

The HSE’s €600 million winter plan is aimed at helping to meet the demands of Covid alongside other essential care this winter. Included within this plan is just under €59 million of spending on private hospitals next year. 

Negotiations were still ongoing, according to the HSE’s winter plan, to secure this “safety net” from private hospitals while also helping to address elective care for public patients experiencing delays and growth in waiting lists.

First issued in August, the HSE last week re-issued a tender aimed at securing some of this private capacity. 

In a statement to, the HSE said it would be issuing these on an “ongoing basis”. 

A spokesperson said: “Providers who applied have been notified of the outcome. The tendering process in place allows the HSE to run the competition on an on-going basis so additional providers may be placed on the panel and as such the competition has re-opened for additional submissions and will remain open for additional applications.”

Private providers have expressed a preference for this arrangement compared to how the government took over private hospitals earlier in the year. The Private Hospitals Association told such an arrangement “would provide greater flexibility for all concerned”. 

Speaking as it was announced that the country would be moving to Level 3 last night, the Minister for Health that the situation was being monitored very closely. 

“The HSE is currently engaged with all of the private hospitals on two fronts, both capacity through the winter plan for non-Covid care and surge capacity as well,” Donnelly said. 

“The HSE also has resources to increase ICU capacity within its own hospitals, should that be required.”

In response to a parliamentary question last week, Donnelly said that while negotiations remain ongoing between the HSE and private providers, his department had approved a temporary arrangement for the treatment of patients in private hospitals pending the finalisation of the procurement process. 

“Funding of up to €25 million has been sanction for this purpose,” he added. 

With reporting from Gráinne Ní Aodha

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