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DoH official: ‘no basis’ for ‘across the board’ agreement on private consultant costs

A senior Department of Health official wrote to the HSE in April stating there was “no basis to enter an across the board” agreement taking on the running costs and business expenses of private rooms owned or rented by self-employed private consultants, the Medical Independent can report.

Dated 8 April, just a week after the Private Hospitals Association reached an agreement with the State allowing 19 private hospitals to effectively be used as public hospitals, the letter was written amid ongoing difficulties in securing sign-up from private consultants.

The letter from Mr Paul Bolger, Director, Resources Division, Department of Health to Mr Liam Woods, HSE National Director, Acute Hospitals, centred on the contractual concerns of private consultants in signing up to temporary contracts to treat public patients as part of the response to Covid-19.

Mr Bolger stated that it was a key objective of the Department and HSE to achieve continuity of care for existing patients.

He also noted that the “issue of private rooms owned or rented by self-employed private consultants not covered in the private hospital agreement remains unresolved”.

Mr Bolger wrote the issues of concern for private consultants were the continuation of care for existing patients, the continuation of off-site private care and “financial support to meet the costs associated with sustaining the private business during this challenging period, including support for staff”.

Despite stating there was no basis to enter into an agreement to take on the running costs of private rooms and business expenses, Mr Bolger wrote “it is envisaged that the arrangements with private hospitals may make specific agreed provision for the costs associated with the rental costs of consultant rooms within the private hospital facility, ie, the rental rooms not in the ownership of the private hospital or the loss of rental income arising from the deployment of rooms owned by the private hospitals for the purposes of treating public patients”.

On the matter of continuity of care, Mr Bolger stated this was a “top priority” and that “all current patients who require ongoing care will remain under the care of the participating consultant as a public patient”.

“Arrangements will be put in place, on a compassionate basis, to ensure that patients receiving drugs or other treatment that are not currently provided in the public system will continue on their treatment.”

Mr Bolger added that employees of private consultants can “benefit from income supports provided by the State”.

He signed off by stating his hope that the letter would provide clarity and conclude discussions on the matter.

“It is important that each private hospital consultant should receive a formal contract offer as soon as possible.”

A number of full-time private consultants have resigned from the temporary contract established by Government in response to Covid-19.

These consultants say they cannot provide care to their existing private patients under the arrangement, and are also unable to accept new referrals.

According to the Department of Health, around 320 private consultants out of a total 600 consultants nationally have accepted temporary contracts, which expire at the end of July.

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