Simon Harris: Private hospital deal still needed 'for that second wave' of Covid-19

By Juno McEnroe
Political Correspondent

Cabinet will discuss whether to extend a €115m monthly deal to use private hospitals tomorrow, after health minister Simon Harris said the facilities could be needed in the event of a second wave of Covid-19.

Mr Harris also rejected claims that clusters in nursing homes had spread because of residents being transferred from acute hospitals.

Speaking in the Dáil, he said the country had managed to keep control of the virus despite more people moving about and businesses reopening.

After nine days since some restrictions were lifted, he said the latest data showed the reproduction rate was between 0.4 and 0.5 this week.

Furthermore, there were 1-2 admissions to ICU and 10-15 admissions to hospital a day now.

“It seems that despite more businesses opening, more people moving, we have managed to keep control of this virus so far,” he told the Dáil.

“That is down to the people of Ireland and their efforts. People have adapted their behaviour to the realities this virus brings.

“They have kept their distance, they have washed their hands, they have adopted the public health advice. We are grateful to them.”

He also confirmed that health authorities are close to assessing if the country can move into phase two of the lockdown exit plan on June 8. This will, among other measures, permit four people to visit another household for a short period.

Mr Harris also confirmed authorities are examining if visitors can see loved ones at nursing homes again.

“I am pleased to report the health service is examining the issue of easing some visitor restrictions and assessing whether we can allow visitors to meet members of their families outside. I don’t wish to raise any hopes, but I also want families to know we are looking at this and we hope we will make progress on this matter shortly,” he said.

Health authorities with NPHET are also assessing how to alleviate restrictions for children, with a decision expected on this next week.

“This pandemic has deprived them of time with their friends, school time and it is bound to have an impact,” said Mr Harris. “Summer is here and while it will not be a normal summer, we must look at ways to help our children resume some form of normality.”

During a debate with opposition TDs in the Dáil, he stood over the controversial €115m monthly deal to use private hospitals during the pandemic, an issue which will be discussed by Cabinet tomorrow.

He said the country needed “to have capacity for that second wave” as well as for non-virus care.

It was about “trying to get balance right”, he said.

Independent TD Catherine Connolly said the deal was “nothing short of scandalous” with a reported 20% to 30% capacity in private facilities in Galway. Mr Harris said there was possibly a need to “finesse” the deal but it was “the right thing to do”.

Mr Harris also rejected claims that virus clusters in nursing homes had originated from transferred hospital residents. He told Fianna Fáil’s Stephen Donnelly he didn’t accept this assertion.