The directors of two maternity hospitals in Dublin have strongly criticized government plans to phase out private health care for pregnant women.
The directors of Rotunda Hospital and the National Maternity Hospital say exceptions need to be made to allow patients to choose private maternity care at public institutions.
Private health care is being phased out of public and voluntary hospitals under a new consultancy agreement agreed by the Cabinet this month.
Consultants who choose the new Sláintecare contract can earn almost €300,000 including allowances, but cannot meet individual patients on site. They may meet off-site private patients on their own time, but private facilities do not exist for obstetric care. Individual patients pay up to €5,000 to see a consultant of their choice.
Professor Fergal Malone of Rotunda Hospital described the proposed changes as “chilling” and said they would have a “serious impact” on obstetric care.
“This is, in one fell swoop, the death knell of the national fertility strategy. If there is no option in your care to completely screw it up.”
“This is about the right of women to choose their health care,” said NMH Master Professor Shane Higgins. “For a long time we have heard that women’s health rights have taken a backseat to others in society. You can, but as a woman, it’s not because of these changes.
“For other procedures, such as stents, new hips, or prostate removal, you can go to any of the many private hospitals. But there are no private maternity hospitals.”
“Maternity services are unique. There are no closed options for delivering babies in Ireland,” said Professor Malone. “But if the Ministry of Health insists that private patients cannot be seen in public hospitals, it means that women being treated by obstetricians will no longer be able to choose who cares for them. ”
He noted that one-third of the population with private health insurance included many young people and families paying extra premiums for obstetric care. .
Professor Higgins said the change would eliminate the option of choosing private or semi-private care from 35% of women attending NMH. It also affects newborns.
Twelve percent of women who attend hospitals are over the age of 40, many with complex medical needs, and are more likely to opt for ongoing care delivered privately, he said. .
New private maternity hospitals are unlikely to be set up due to the high cost of providing professional coverage, and even if they were set up in Dublin they would cover only 40% of births, he said. said.
Professor Higgins said the solution is to make an exception for maternal care by allowing hospitals to continue to promote individualized care.
Mount Carmel Hospital, the last private maternity ward, closed in 2014 after experiencing financial difficulties. Professor Malone said he did not foresee a new independent private maternity unit because of the “stratospheric” costs of litigation over maternity claims.
Rotunda’s €100 million budget includes about €15 million from private insurance revenues. Professor Malone said there was “no doubt” that the government would have to supplement this income.
He predicted that the measure would have a negative impact on maternity hospitals’ efforts to attract Irish staff working abroad. We would love to have them, but if we have to tell them they can’t open their own practice, it will be harder to hire them.”
The health ministry said the new consultancy agreement will ensure that public health facilities are used only for public patients.
“The transition applies to all private care, including obstetrics, in all public hospitals. [HSE and voluntary]’ said the spokesperson.
The transition will be phased in, so the immediate impact on private obstetric care will be limited, he said. .
“Medical care is not currently available in private hospitals like the NHS, but all consultants who hold contracts, including those who specialize in obstetrics and gynecology, have private offsite patients on their own time. They have the right to treatment, to honor their public contracts and to fulfill their commitments under them.”