Connolly spars with Health Minister over low occupancy at private hospitals

Galway Daily news Respite services at Merlin Park to be restored by August

Galway West TD Catherine Connolly clashed with the Minister for Health in the Dáil this week over the use, or underuse, of private hospitals the state is paying for.

Deputy Connolly said that private consultants at Galway’s two private hospitals, the Bon Secours and Galway Clinic, said that they are operating at between 20% and 30% capacity.

Under a deal agreed for the Covid-19 crisis, the HSE has taken over the running of all private hospitals, which are acting as part of the public health service for the time being.

She also said that the public patients at Merlin Park Hospital’s rehabilitation unit were moved to Bon Secours, while Merlin Park has been “left empty”.

Deputy Connolly referred to an interview on Drivtetime with a consultant gynaecologist in Galway who has 350 patients waiting to be seen, 50 of whom require urgent surgery they cannot get, she said.

“The more I reflect on the Covid-19 crisis, the more it seems to disproportionately affect women and children.”

“There is no cervical screening, no BreastCheck, no elective surgery carried out and emergency surgery is very limited.”

“This is while we have the two hospitals practically empty. It is certainly 70% empty and God knows what the percentage is in Merlin Park University Hospital.

“I could pull a figure out and say 50% but I imagine it is much higher,” Catherine Connolly said.

The Independent TD said that it is “the ultimate insult” that they cannot even see the contract agreed with private hospitals as it’s “commercially sensitive” when it is costing the state €150 million.

Responding to Deputy Connolly’s questions, Minister for Health Simon Harris said that Bon Secours Galway had an inpatient occupancy of 41% in the week of May 18 – 22, while the Galway Clinic had 26% occupancy in the same period.

“I get the point that there are challenges and difficulties. However, I still believe it was absolutely the right thing to do.”

Minister Harris said that while the system does still need some “finesse”, it would be unacceptable for private patients with cancer to receive treatments, while public patients cannot.

He added that 434 patients who never would have been able to “darken the door” at the private Bon Secours hospital have had diagnostics carried out there.

“Some 710 public patients had outpatient appointments in the Bons hospital in Galway as well.”

The Minister said that he has figures for the Galway Clinic as well, and would furnish them to Deputy Connolly.

However Deputy Connolly alleged there is “no equity” in this system

“The Minister is talking about private patients going into the public system where the public system has significant waiting lists”.

It “quickly became apparent” after the deal was struck that “the Minister is paying €115 million for empty hospitals.”

The Cabinet agreed later this week that the current deal with private hospitals will no be extended past June.

The government will instead seek to negotiate a new deal that will allow the state to access capacity at private hospitals in the event of a second wave of Covid-19.