Sunday 22 October 2017

Hospital attempted to charge €800 a night for private care as patient lay on a trolley in ward

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Stock image
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Hospital administrative staff repeatedly asked an ill patient to sign health insurance admittance forms, even though they were lying on a trolley.

A patient can be charged €800 a night if they have private health insurance, even if they are on an A&E trolley which has been moved to a ward.

The individual was pursued by staff members at University Hospital Limerick, who demanded that they sign the form.

It is understood the patient was distressed at their persistence, and continued to refuse to sign the form, saying that they would remain a public patient and pay the €80 nightly instead.

The patient spent two nights on an A&E trolley which was moved to a ward to help free up space and allow them to get a better chance of rest.

A spokeswoman for the hospital told the Irish Independent: "A trolley at ward level is an admitted patient, and not under emergency medicine consultants."

Fianna Fáil's Jack Chambers Photo: Steve Humphreys
Fianna Fáil's Jack Chambers Photo: Steve Humphreys

The private health insurance fee cannot be imposed if the patient is on the trolley in A&E - but it can trigger once they move to a ward. However, the patient can remain on the same trolley in some cases.

The latest incident follows strong protests by health insurers Laya, Irish Life and Vhi at the growing pressure insured patients are facing to sign insurance forms even though they are ending up in a public bed.

Public hospitals are being set individual financial targets to generate private income - which is adding to the hassle patients are complaining about.

Commenting on the issue, Jack Chambers, Fianna Fáil TD for Dublin West, who has repeatedly highlighted the practice in the Dáil, said: "This is a flawed policy which is only driving up private care in public hospitals. It is time it was repealed."

Pressure

He warned that it also raises serious questions about potential incentives for hospitals to delay the discharge of private patients in order to maximise their income.

"It is unfair to put this kind of pressure on people who have paid their taxes and are asked to pay on the double," added Mr Chambers.

A spokeswoman for the Limerick hospital said: "Any patient who is deemed suitable for admission as an inpatient to a hospital ward from the emergency is liable for the statutory inpatient charges as laid down by legislation.

"UL Hospitals does not issue insurance forms to emergency patients to sign in the emergency department to utilise their private health insurance.

"However, when medical decision dictates that a patient requires inpatient admission to a hospital bed, the admissions staff will interview the patient and as part of the admissions process, patients are asked if they wish to be a public or private patient for their inpatient stay.

"If the patient requests to be treated privately it is only then the patient will be asked to sign the relevant forms."

She added: "Unfortunately some admitted patients may be on a trolley in a ward waiting for a hospital bed and UL Hospitals regrets that this happens in some instances.

"It is planned to open a 17-bed short stay unit in the old emergency department next month.

"This is subject to recruitment and minor infrastructural works, which will help to reduce the numbers admitted and waiting on trolleys in wards or elsewhere in the emergency department."

The hospital's new emergency department was more than three times the size of the old one, and patient experience was improving, she added.

Irish Independent

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