HSE chief executive Paul Reid has called on private hospitals to "put on the green jersey" and sign up to the proposed new arrangements to allow the State take over capacity in their facilities to deal with the current Covid-19 crisis.
Three of the country's private hospitals, Blackrock Clinic, the Galway Clinic and the Hermitage Clinic, said on Thursday they would be signing up to the new agreement.
The three hospitals are part of the Parma Healthcare Group owned by businessman Larry Goodman.
Hospitals in the Mater Private network in Dublin Cork and Limerick are also to sign up to the new agreement.
The HSE expects other private hospitals to also sign up to the arrangement shortly. The new arrangement can run for up to 12 months.
Speaking on Thursday Mr Reid said “good progress” had been made in negotiations and private hospitals have been “giving us some relief” during the pandemic.
“We are all very anxious to close out that agreement. We need all the private hospitals signed up. Not to do so would be incomprehensible.”
Mr Reid said he was confident the Beacon Hospital Group would sign up also.
He said that he expected to “close it out by tomorrow (Friday)”.
On Wednesday the Department of Health and the HSE issued draft contracts to all private hospitals with the exception of Beacon.
A spokeswoman for Beacon Hospital said on Wednesday it did not expect to take part in the scheme as it already had in place arrangements with individual public hospitals and the National Treatment Purchase Fund to treat public patients. She said about 20 per cent of capacity at the hospital was currently devoted to supporting the public system and about 50 per cent of those in its intensive care facilities were public patients.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said he was confident private hospitals would make their facilities available, particularly intensive care beds, in the face of a new wave of Covid-19 cases.
Speaking on RTÉ Radio he said: "Our message (to the private hospitals) is that you were available in the first wave, you made your hospitals and your staff available in the first wave. We paid for that, but we are grateful for it."
“It’s much more likely we’re going to need those private hospitals now. You need to make them available, your staff, your doctors and nurses. They understand medical ethics, and they’re going to want you to make your ICU capacity available to us.
“Ideally, making that available to us, so that we can move patients who don’t have Covid into those private hospital ICUs beds, thus freeing up our ICUs to focus on Covid.”
Mr Reid said the new deal with the private hospitals would be a “very different arrangement” to the one in place earlier this year and would not cost as much as the previous agreement on which the State spent about €115 million per month.
He said the private hospitals on this occasion would not be taken over , “but capacity within them will be utilised.”
Under the proposed deal, the State would effectively take over 15-30 per cent of capacity in the hospitals, depending on the number of cases and the impact the disease was having on the public health system at a particular time.
The preference of the Department of Health and the HSE is to use capacity in private hospitals to provide time-critical care for non-Covid public patients.
The Parma Healthcare Group on Thursday said its three hospitals would be taking part in the new arrangement.
A spokeswoman said: “A new arrangement with the HSE has been agreed to ensure that public patients requiring time critical/urgent care will be able to access the care they need in our hospitals if the public system cannot deliver such care due to capacity issues arising from Covid-19.
“Under this new arrangement, a small but significant proportion of the capacity in our hospitals will be made available for the critical and urgent care of public patients.”
The group said the arrangement would “not impact upon continuity of care for privately insured patients who will still be able to access our facilities” or affect the practice of its private consultants.