Consultants earn €1bn in private patient fees

Hospital consultants earned €1bn in fees for treating private patients over the course of three years.

The income from 2016 to 2018 covers fees for treating patients in public and private hospitals.

Most of the consultants were already on public hospital contracts and topped up their income from private patients. Others are in full-time private practice.

The large remuneration highlights the battle ahead to persuade the majority of the country’s 3,163 consultants to switch over to a new contract worth €252,150 at the top of the pay scale from July 2022 on condition they only treat public patients.

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The new contract, which has a six-point scale ranging from €185,198, will be mandatory for all newly recruited hospital consultants from the middle of the next year and they will not be allowed private practice.

It is part of the drive to end queue-jumping by private patients over the next decade.

Health Minister Simon Harris stressed yesterday there will be no dilution of the decision. “The train has left the station,” he said.

From mid-2020, no newly hired consultant will be able to hold a public hospital job and also treat fee-paying patients.

The “bizarre” two-tier system in public hospitals has to end, he added.

The objective is to have 4,200 hospital consultants working in public hospitals by 2030, half of whom would exclusively treat public patients.

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Figures released by the Department of Health yesterday showed some consultants who can treat private patients in public and private hospitals are currently on salaries of €148,923. This will rise to €155,954 in July 2022. The extent of their private income is not known but it is likely to be several times their salary.

If they switched to the new public-only contract they would get a €96,196 pay rise.

Doctors who can only treat patients in the public hospital where they work will earn €191,683 in July 2022 and if they accept the new contract they should get a pay increase of €60,467.

Only a few hundred consultants currently confine their work to public patients and they will earn €221,765 in 2022, leaving them with a pay rise of €30,385 under the new contract.

The Irish Medical Organisation and the Irish Hospital Consultants Association have said they want to have talks on the new contract.

The minister said he will meet them to discuss issues such as protected study time and other issues.

The Department of Health said the removal of private practice from public hospitals will happen over a number of years and “no immediate changes will be apparent”.

Public hospitals’ income from private patients will fall by €7m in year one and €148m in year 10.

The marginal cost of recruiting all new consultants to a better-paid contract is estimated at €28m in year one, rising to €183m in year 10.

Mr Harris said Ireland is an outlier in allowing private practice in public hospitals.

Hospitals are to get more beds including extra for St John’s Hospital in Limerick to relieve the main hospital.

Earlier this year fire safety officers highlighted the dangers of cramming so many patients into Limerick’s A&E.

Staff training in fire safety has been carried out since and the main corridor is kept clear.

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