THE Southern Health Trust has been criticised after it admitted sending 240 people to a private hospital in Co Westmeath for private treatment.
The Trust told the Mail it had sent the patients to receive inpatient and day case treatment at St Francis Private Hospital, Mullingar, more than 90 miles from Lurgan.
Patients are also being sent to two Dublin hospitals and several other ‘independent providers’ in Northern Ireland.
The policy of sending people long distances for treatment was criticised by one source from the local health service.
“In order to bring the waiting lists down they are asking people to go all the way to Mullingar,” they said. “I don’t know if you’ve ever been but it’s an awfully long way from the Craigavon area, and the road is terrible. I understand they are taken down on a minibus and come back up the same day. I don’t see what would be wrong in paying local staff extra to do more hours and allow people to be treated closer to home.”
A trust spokeswoman said patients were sent to private hospitals to cope with the growing demand in some specialities and to have them treated within ministerial and health department times.
The cost of sending the patients for treatment is substantial and they are also entitled to financial help with travel, subsistence and accommodation should they and a carer need to stay overnight.
The Mail asked how much it is costing the trust for the private treatment. A spokesperson said, “The total costs will not be available until all appointments, treatments and follow up reviews are completed which will be in some months time.”
The spokesperson said in order to cope with the growing demand of patients, the trust has been funded by the Health and Social Care Board to take on extra work within the trust and, if required, with independent providers.
“These include the costs of running additional sessions within our own hospitals and by using independent providers,” said the spokesperson.
“There are a small number of specialities where we do not have the treatment capacity to meet the needs of our population, and the Regional Board is working with the trust on these specialities where investment is needed. This work plans to reduce the need for this type of additionality in the future.
“In keeping with the regional access policy (IEAP) all patients are given two offers of treatment, one of which needs to be in Northern Ireland. Patients travelling outside Northern Ireland for treatment are entitled to financial assistance with travel, subsistence and accommodation should they and a carer need to stay overnight.
“All independent sector providers used by the trust are drawn from the Regional Board’s list of eligible providers of acute care.
“Along with contracts with two Dublin hospitals and a several other independent providers in Northern Ireland, the trust has made provision at St Francis Private Hospital in Mullingar for approximately 240 patients to receive inpatient and day case treatments.”
The Department of Health has paid private healthcare companies around £130m in the past three years.
The British Medical Association says it is regrettable that consultants can’t work to see more patients within the NHS instead of seeing them privately elsewhere.
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