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Wednesday 27 September 2023 Dublin: 13°C
Sam Boal/RollingNews,ie Simon Harris and Alan Kelly pictured last year
# flu epidemic
Alan Kelly wants state access to private hospitals to avoid 'hell in our emergency departments'
Simon Harris is considering the move, but said it wouldn’t be straightforward.

SIMON HARRIS HAS said he will consider introducing measures to allow private hospital facilities to be used by the state this winter in the event of a flu epidemic.

Speaking in the Dáil yesterday evening, the Health Minister said: “My commitment is to beef up the public health service, but we also must acknowledge where there is capacity in other parts.”

Harris was responding to a suggestion by Labour’s health spokesperson Alan Kelly, who said: ”If we have a bad flu epidemic this winter, we will face hell in our emergency departments. ”

Harris said: “I have no role in regulating the activities of private hospitals at present, although there are a number of issues in relation to the suggestion that I would like to tease out with [Kelly].

“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.”

Harris noted that the HSE has reported an increase of approximately 5% in emergency department (ED) attendances so far this year.

“Despite increased demand, there has been a decrease of almost 5% in numbers of patients waiting on trolleys.

That is no comfort to someone waiting on a trolley but we have seen increased demand yet fewer patients on trolleys. In addition, patient experience times have been improving, with 82% of all patients completing their ED episode of care within nine hours.

In reply, Kelly said the minister’s answer started off “fairly well but he went downhill after that”, adding: “There was no meat in the detail.”

Waiting on a trolley 

Kelly said it is “wrong that a 90-year-old woman who goes into an emergency department, such as the Mater, could be on a trolley for two to three days and 100 yards down the road an executive can go into another emergency department and be treated immediately”.

He said the vast majority of the time patients at private hospitals such as the Beacon and Blackrock Clinic “will be seen almost immediately by a consultant”.

This is not acceptable. We will have an epidemic this winter if a crisis develops because of an influenza epidemic. We need quick answers, quick decisions and quick engagement with private hospitals to use their capacity immediately. I am aware they do not provide all the services, as the minister rightly outlined, but they do provide services and they have capacity.

Harris described Kelly’s response as “the closest I will ever get to a compliment from Deputy Kelly”.

“There is merit in scoping this issue out. I believe discussions would be needed on the type of procedures, how it would work, how we would make sure we do not divert resources from public hospitals, and how we make sure that we get on with solving the pressures in our accident and emergency departments,” Harris said.

Read: Labour bill aims to clamp down on rogue crisis pregnancy agencies operating in Ireland

Read: 2015 was a ‘tax leap year’ – meaning you could be due more tax back than usual

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