The provision of private care in public acute hospitals has been a long standing feature of the Irish health care system. The White Paper on Private Health Insurance 1999 sets out the advantages of allowing private practice on public hospital sites, as follows. It helps to ensure that medical and other staff of the highest calibre continue to be attracted into and retained in the public service. It promotes the efficient use of consultant's time by having public and private patients on the one site, it represents an additional income stream to the public hospital system, and it allows patients to avail of private health care when admitted as emergencies to public hospitals.
The consultants' common contract includes a provision to allow consultants treat private patients in public hospitals. Beds in public hospitals are designated public or private. On average, 20% of the beds in public hospitals are designated as private beds. The Government's health strategy, Quality and Fairness, contains a commitment to improve access to hospital services for public patients. This policy objective will be addressed through a series of integrated measures including increased capacity for public patients, use of the national treatment purchase fund to reduce waiting times for public patient, equity for public patients in a revised contract for consultants and clarification in relation to the rules governing access to public beds.
I am committed to ensuring that private practice within public hospitals will not be at the expense of fair access for public patients and I can assure the House that in the context of the on-going health reform programme every opportunity will be taken to reinforce the application of this principle in the health system.