Consultants earn more than €1bn in three years to treat private patients

Hospital consultants earned more than €1bn in fees for treating private patients over the past three years, according to figures obtained by the Irish Independent.

The combined income, which amounts to an average of €470,000 for each consultant, includes fees from patients in private hospitals.

It comes as Health Minister Simon Harris said he intends to have talks on the Government-commissioned report by Donal de Buitléir calling for a ban on private practice in public hospitals.

The majority of the more than 2,600 consultants also have public hospital salaries averaging €170,000.

Mr Harris told the Oireachtas Health Committee yesterday the pay gap, which leaves newly recruited consultants paid €50,000 less than longer-serving colleagues and is contributing to recruitment problems, will be examined.

But talks with doctors’ unions will have to also involve reform of work practices.

The private income shows the huge financial blow which consultants would suffer if the ban went ahead and more patients abandoned private insurance.

The fees, confirmed by the Health Insurance Authority, come from the three main health insurers, VHI, Laya and Irish Life.

Some of the biggest earners are believed to be cardiologists, who perform treatments such as insertion of stents.

“We are going to have to get down to the thorny issue of saying to people we need to change the way you work… it is going to mean no more business as usual,” Mr Harris said yesterday.

Separate figures, obtained by the Irish Independent, show significant variations in the payments charged to consultants for the use of facilities in public hospitals to treat their private patients. In some cases there is no levy.

In the National Maternity Hospital, the levy is around €160 a session – around €8,000 a year.

In Croom Hospital, Co Limerick, it is €2,500 a year.

The Coombe maternity hospital in Dublin has a standard fee of €170, reducing to €150 a session for three or more sessions a week.

A session in St James’s Hospital in Dublin is €130.

Several hospitals which were asked for information on facilities used for private work weeks ago have failed to respond, including University Hospital Galway and Cork University Hospital, both of which have huge patient waiting lists.

Fianna Fáil TD Stephen Donnelly yesterday asked the minister why private suites are being built at the new National Children’s Hospital if the ban is to go ahead. Mr Harris said public hospitals are currently contractually obliged to provide the private facilities.

Meanwhile, both the Irish Medical Organisation and the Irish Hospital Consultants Association yesterday pointed to a new survey showing that 2,190 doctors enrolled here last year, the lowest number in three years.

Only one in 10 were specialists and reliance on overseas doctors is escalating, the Medical Council report showed.

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