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Money Times - July 28, 2015

Posted by Jill Kerby on July 28 2015 @ 09:00

 

PRIVATE A&E vs HSE?   IT’S NO CONTEST IN MY HOUSE

Is it worth buying health insurance for your children?  I’ve always thought so, even if for the last 21 years I’ve made only a few outpatient couple claims on behalf of my son, and all for outpatient/minor accident and emergency events.

I am still hugely grateful to the A & E in Our Lady’s Hospital in Crumlin where he was rushed a couple of times as a little boy. It was never for anything life threatening and treatment was always pretty quick. We’ve always the portion of the c€3,500 that my husband and I each contribute to the HSE each year as part of our income tax (and every other taxpayer contributes) is the fuel that keeps great hospitals like Crumlin open.

Best of all, any child with a life-threatening injury or condition (like cancer, heart and respiratory conditions that could kill them) is treated right away and the public/private healthcare apartheid regarding accommodation barely at all (most children are kept in wards, not private or semi-private rooms.)

But the €13.4 billion annual HSE budget, despite recently introducing GP cards for children under age six, still doesn’t stretch to treating all sick children quickly, let alone comprehensively for their (immediately) non-life threatening conditions.

There are still over 400,000 people waiting to see a consultant, tens of thousands of them children. Treatment and surgery waiting times can be as long as 18 months, though the target by the end of this year, is no more than 15 months.

Both the numbers of people waiting and the time, is finally reducing and one of the reasons this is happening is for these people to be treated privately, here in Ireland and abroad via the National Treatment Purchase Fund, which appears to have been geared back up, after funding was reduced as a result of the 2008 economic downturn. 

For example, children with scoliosis (curvature of the spine), many whose conditions were deteriorating because of long waiting times in the public service, are now being sent abroad for private treatment via the NTPF.

Which brings me back to health insurance for children.  If a child’s condition is not life-threatening and they don’t have private health insurance, they join a queue. The lengths vary depending, it mainly seems on how lucky they are in having a GP with some pulling power, how many consultants there are specialising in that particular condition, and how long their waiting lists but also whether there are sufficient beds, nurses, operating theatres, etc.

It doesn’t seem to matter much whether it’s a relatively minor problem like tonsillitis or ear grommets, asthma or more serious ones like epilepsy, cerebal palsy, spina bifida, or heart/lung conditions.  The former two can be kept at bay with antibiotics – but the others may need advanced hospital treatments or surgery.

‘The Child’ is now 21 and a young man.  He has a few scars for the childhood sports-related wounds that, in the end, didn’t need stitches (just glue!) and the couple of suspected broken bones that turned out to be bad sprains.

Last week, however, he had to be rushed to an emergency department with a suspected (and in the end ‘necrotised’) appendix. He was in agony, but he walked in under his own steam…to the A&E at the Beacon Hospital.

Despite being busy for a Tuesday afternoon, he was seen within minutes by nurses, doctors, the A&E consultant and the surgeon who stabilised him, and was in the operating theatre within a couple of hours. His care was superb.

St James’ Hospital is just down the road from my house. I know the staff are just as dedicated and skilled as those at the Beacon.But they’re understaffed, overworked and depending on the hour and day, the A&E itself varies from being just a little crowded and chaotic, to a full-blown madhouse where walk-ins (like my son) can wait hours for treatment.   

Jack’s Laya Healthcare (student) policy, Simply Health Plus, costs just €529 or €10 a week. The same policy for his dad and me costs us each €21 a week. It carries just a single, annual hospital excess payment of €150.

The Beacon, like the Blackrock is a high tech hospital. It has over 800 staff and over 200 consultants. It is calm, clean and remarkably quiet (which is much appreciated by everyone.) Rooms are spacious (singles only at the Blackrock) and the meals are healthy, tasty and serviced hot.)

I wrote once (in my Sunday Times column) when Jack was little, that I would sell my car and never take another holiday again before I would do without private health insurance. Last Easter, my husband had his first medical emergency ever and spent nearly a week at the Blackrock after first waiting nearly four hours to be seen at St James’ on a Saturday afternoon as he got sicker and sicker.  Last week, it was Jack’s turn.

Our two-tier health service is far from ideal. Those who can pay the insurance are treated quickly and suffer less. But 2.1 million people are so concerned about the disparity in service that they’re willing to collectively pay over €2 billion more to ensure they and their loved ones are treated in a timely, efficient way. 

Would that happen if private medicine was abolished and the HSE got that extra €2 billion on top of the €13.4 billion? 

Not on your life. Or mine. 

If you have a personal finance question for Jill, please email her at jill@jillkerby.ie or write to her c/o this paper.

 

1 comment(s)

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