Dáil debates

Wednesday, 26 April 2006

1:00 pm

Photo of Mary HarneyMary Harney (Tánaiste; Minister, Department of Health and Children; Dublin Mid West, Progressive Democrats)

There are 2,500 private beds in the public hospitals. The policy pursued by the Deputy's party, when it was in Government, was that 20% of beds in all new hospitals would be private. The taxpayer pays the full cost of these and, furthermore, staffs them and subsidises them to the tune of 40%. The only staff members getting any income from the insurers are the consultants. I recently compared this to pilots getting all business-class air fares.

I want to convert 1,000 of the 2,500 beds into public beds for all patients, not just private patients. The manner in which I suggest doing so is such that these beds would be provided to the taxpayer at less than half the cost, including the capital allowances, of building the beds in the traditional way. Furthermore, these beds are already staffed by nurses who are being paid through the public system, and therefore all that is required is the relocation of the private beds to a different facility that would be totally financed by private investors. Hospitals would have these facilities co-located so the consultant staff could be on-site. We all know that consultants can use their time more effectively if they are on-site as opposed to operating at a number of different sites under a system of bi-location. This is why this policy is being pursued. Before I announced the policy, Prospectus, which has great expertise in this area, did some consultancy work for me.

In the OECD approximately 27% of health care is provided privately and 72% or 73% is provided publicly. In the United States, where the reverse is the case, some 60% of health care is private and 40% is public. I noted recently that the Prime Minister of British Columbia, Gordon Campbell, asked why Canada was so afraid to consider a mixed health care delivery model like those in many European states and others which would deliver results for its patients at a lower cost to taxpayers. That is what I am trying to do.

I am trying to provide 1,000 beds at less than half the cost of doing so in the traditional way, thus avoiding the need for the huge subsidy of 40%. Much private work is carried out in our public hospitals and the rate is increasing very rapidly because of the great numbers with private health care insurance. The taxpayer should not fund the capital provision of the private beds, nor should he or she subsidise them to the tune of 40%.

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