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Minister for Health to investigate reports of private entrance to National Children's Hospital

It emerged this month that the facility will be built to honour a 2008 contract with consultants.

Minister for Health Simon Harris
Minister for Health Simon Harris
Image: Niall Carson/PA Images

MINISTER FOR HEALTH Simon Harris is facing calls to remove private clinics from the new National Children’s Hospital after their construction was criticised by healthcare groups.

The Minister also says he will investigate a proposed plan to construct a private entrance at the hospital, following questions about the facility at the Oireachtas Health Committee yesterday.

In response to a parliamentary question from Sinn Féin TD Louise O’Reilly on 8 May, Harris confirmed that the new hospital would contain an area designated as a private clinic.

The Minister said that the hospital was obliged to provide the facility for consultants, who will pay a fee and other operational costs to use the room for private appointments.

The facility is being constructed to allow the National Contract for Consultants, which was negotiated in 2008, to be honoured.

Under the agreement, some consultants holding specific contracts are entitled to engage in private outpatient practice outside of their public commitments, which must be conducted at the hospital where they are contracted outside of their public hours.

Harris said that the children’s hospital was therefore obliged to provide a private facility for outpatients on behalf of consultants who held such contracts.

However, opposition TDs, patients groups and nurses have hit out at the plan as contradicting the aims of the government’s Sláintecare programme, which envisages a universal single-tier health service.

Under the programme, the government established an independent review group in 2017 led by Dr Donal de Buitléir to examine the removal of private practice from public hospitals.

Earlier this week, O’Reilly called on the government to challenge the 2008 agreement, rather than agreeing to it.

“The public who already being fleeced with the huge cost overrun are now being asked to pay for the building of private clinics – it is totally ridiculous,” she said.

“What’s more is this decision contravenes a fundamental principle of Sláintecare which is the removal of private care from public hospitals.”

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation has also called for the development of private clinics at the hospital to be scrapped, saying public facilities should be delivered on a basis of need.

“Public money spent on private healthcare facilities is wasteful, contrary to government policy, and undermines the need to focus on universal access based on need,” a spokeswoman for the union told TheJournal.ie.

The Irish Patients Association also said that Sláintecare needed investment to work, and that its core value was equity of access for those in need of healthcare.

“The big question for the government is whether they are they going to maintain the status quo by supporting an obsolete agreement,” a spokesman said.

“Or will they deliver an all-party agreement of equity of access to healthcare based on need and renegotiate contracts if necessary?”

Speaking at the Oireachtas Health Committee yesterday, Fianna Fáíl health spokesman Stephen Donnelly said the suggestion that there would be a private entrance at the new hospital was “morally repugnant”.

“On an ethical level, I am appalled that there would ever be a separate entrance for patients with private health insurance,” Donnelly said afterwards.

However, Harris told the committee that he was not aware that a private entrance would be constructed at the new facility, which is expected to be completed in 2022, but said he would investigate reports suggesting there would be.

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