Ever heard the old adage, ‘You can’t put a price on your health’. What a load of old claptrap. Pick up the phone and call any of the country’s private health insurers and they’ll be glad to put a price on what it will cost you to ‘Get Well Soon’ if your health takes a turn for the worst.

Sixteenth-century English scholar and vicar at Oxford University Robert Burton once wrote: “Restore a man to his health, and his purse lies open to thee.” By Jaysus, you’d want a deep purse to ensure your health is well-looked after in this country. About one in two Irish adults now have private health insurance, without which their chances of getting private treatment for a serious illness when they need it are fairly slim. And given the length of our public waiting lists, if I had a serious concern about any health issue, I’d far prefer to be ‘going private’.

While the cost of living in Ireland does seem to be decreasing in many respects, recent CSO figures suggest the cost of healthcare went up 4.7% in the past twelve months. A year or two ago, I would have put this down to the health insurers jumping on the band wagon and hiking up their prices like everyone else. But then I discovered just how much a short sojourn in a private hospital costs.

A colleague of mine recently stayed for two nights at the private Beacon Hospital in Dublin. Lucky for him his private insurance covered the majority of these costs. Because when he received his itemised bill, he nearly fell down in a weakness – accommodation alone for the two nights was a staggering €14, 892.25. And that was before the doctor even washed his hands! Surely one of the country’s, nay the world’s, top hotels wouldn’t be so expensive? For that kind of money, I’ve since been reliably informed, you could head to Las Vegas for a night in the red, rotating round bed at the Hugh Hefner Sky Villa, or perhaps the Sweet Suite in San Diego’s Ivy Hotel, which boasts a 12-person, see-through glass bathroom for couples looking for something a little different!!! 

These unbelievable hospital charges prompted me to research the matter a little further and I discovered that some private hospitals in this country charge €1,000 a night or more for a bed alone, with treatment and consultation costing extra. Mount Carmel, the only fully private Dublin maternity hospital, costs €6,095 for three nights’ accommodation in a private room, while consultant’s fees can run to €5,000. The average health insurance policy will cover a little over half of this hospital stay, with the patient still falling in for the remainder of the bill. And recent changes to the tax regime mean women can now only claim back 20% of this (as oppose to the previous 41%).

But here’s where things get interesting. It was recently reported that some wily expectant mothers are now booking special deals in luxury hotels for their post-natal care, rather than staying on at these exorbitant costs in private maternity hospitals. They opt for the free and community-based Domino Scheme for their aftercare meaning that, provided the birth is complication-free, they check into their luxury suite hours after giving birth and are visited shortly afterwards by a qualified and experienced midwife. The Four Seasons Hotel in Ballsbridge, like many other hotels, has apparently cut its rates and their fluffy towels, en suite bathroom and on-call room service represents far better value for money to these women.

My strongest memory of my post-natal care at Waterford Regional Hospital is begging for a clean sheet for my newborn’s cot after he drenched himself and everything around him vomiting up a feed. I was told there weren’t any clean cot sheets available on the ward, nor would there be until Monday morning (this was a Friday night) and I ended up using a pjyama top of my own as a makeshift sheet and checking myself out of hospital in a fury the following morning. I was a private patient and my insurance company was set to pay around €800 a night for my stay, not that that should matter when it comes to the care of an infant.

American businessman Warren Buffet, who has been repeatedly ranked as the second richest person in the world after Bill Gates, once remarked that ‘price is what you pay, but value is what you get’. When it comes to this country’s private healthcare system, we’re faced with a distinct profusion of the former and absence of the latter.