Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Ceisteanna (43)

Louise O'Reilly


43. Deputy Louise O'Reilly asked the Minister for Health if he has had dealings or meetings in relation to a proposed private hospital in Swords, County Dublin. [48892/19]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí ó Béal (6 píosaí cainte) (Ceist ar Health)

The front pages of my local papers advise me that the local by-election candidate from the Minister's party is going to deliver a private hospital. My understanding from what has been said publicly on this is that there have been meetings at the highest level, up to and including An Taoiseach, so I should have probably included him in my question and that this is a project that Fine Gael has in fact been campaigning for for two and a half years. In light of the conversation that the Minister has just been having, this project goes a little bit against that to be committing public money to purchase beds in the private sector so that those beds will be available. These are the things I wish to tease out with the Minister. My understanding is that public money will be used to purchase beds in this private hospital and it will be available for everybody in some nirvana. Perhaps the Minister might comment on that.

I wish all the candidates in all four by-elections the very best and I do not want to involve myself in that campaign.

That is great generosity of spirit.

I note reports of plans by a private company to build a private hospital in Swords. I have not met anyone involved with the development of this proposal.

This is a time of unprecedented capital investment to develop our public health services under Project Ireland 2040. Our public health service was starved during the recessionary and somewhat during the Celtic tiger years of significant health investment from a capital perspective. Current budgets rose, capital budgets did not. We now have 165% more to spend on capital over the next ten years than in the last ten years. That is about €11 billion compared to just €4 billion. Our national development plan outlines the projects that we intend to deliver during that time.

It is of course the reality today, which the Deputy knows well, whether she or I agree with it, that the public health service and the State utilise capacity that is available in private health facilities. It does that through the National Treatment Purchase Fund, NTPF which is now investing a third of its budget in public and not just private hospitals. The reality today as we move towards creating a universal healthcare system is both public and private models are used. It is also a reality, whether or not the Deputy agrees with it, that through the NTPF and others, private hospitals sometimes have service level agreements, SLAs, and the like to provide services. I have no role in that regard.

Is the Minister saying that he has not met anybody, be they a colleague of his from his own party or somebody from the organisation who is building the hospital, and that he has not had any meetings on this hospital? The impression is being given that the public purse will be used to purchase beds for this hospital.

Since the Minister is talking about a 165% increase in capital spend, is there any consideration being given to constructing a public hospital since his party has obviously identified the need for a hospital in the constituency? As I point out to the Minister every single day and at every single opportunity, this is the fastest growing constituency in the State, with among the youngest population.

It has been given to understand that the Minister himself has been met and that this has been discussed with him, with An Taoiseach and with the Minister for Finance. Is it the case that this is a project? Has an SLA been agreed with this private company? Has the NTPF agreed to purchase any places? While the adverts are in the papers saying that access will be available for public and private patients, one could not say exactly that at this stage in the proceedings because the SLA has not been concluded, or am I wrong in that?

I said very clearly that I have not met anybody involved with the development of the proposal. Senator Reilly has indeed mentioned this proposal to me.

I am well aware of it because it is very visible, with a number of people promoting it. I have not had any meetings with anyone involved in the development of the proposal. Senator Reilly has mentioned it to me. It is not for me to speak for him in this House, although I believe his view is that the extra capacity could indeed help people on the public waiting lists in the interim as we build our universal healthcare system.

The question of which private facilities are used for which procedures is not a political decision for me to make. It is a decision which is made by the NTPF or, on occasion, by the HSE. I am open to correction since I am not overly familiar with this but my understanding is that planning permission is being sought for the hospital in Swords, or it is at least certainly not built yet, so no service level agreement or the like will be agreed until such a time as it is. Those matters are for the NTPF to address. We will unapologetically continue to use all capacity, both public and private, to try to drive down waiting lists in the interim as we build our Sláintecare health service.