Tuesday 25 July 2017

Public hospital gives parking discount to private patients

St James’s charges up to five times as much for public visitors in two-tier system

Different fees: St James’s
Different fees: St James’s
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

One of the country's main public hospitals is operating a two-tier parking charge system for public and private patients.

Those attending the private suites in St James's Hospital enjoy a much cheaper rate as daily charges are capped at €3, but the daily cost can be as high as €15 for those using the public facilities.

The hospital, which gets over €300m a year from the HSE, operates the two-tier parking charge system on its grounds.

People attending the St James's private clinic, which accommodates consultants and diagnostic suites, pay at its reception and not via machine.

However, those parking in the underground car park, which is open to all patients and visitors, are charged at €2.50 an hour with a daily levy of €15 kicking in after six hours.

The price gap comes amid ongoing controversy over the mix of public and privately insured patients in public hospitals.

A spokesman for St James's Hospital confirmed yesterday: "The car parking charges for the private clinic remain unchanged since it recently moved location on site. These charges are currently under review."

Cancer patients being treated at the hospital get a discount, but it can still amount to a €5 maximum a day.

The Irish Cancer Society has called for free or subsidised parking for all cancer patients receiving treatment.

It contacted every hospital that provides cancer treatment in Ireland and found no difference between the 2016 and 2017 rates.

"Instead, during 2016, while cancer patients were struggling to pay crippling parking costs, the revenue raised from parking at all but four cancer hospitals increased.

"Last year, hospitals that offer cancer treatment raised almost €18.75m in car parking fees, up over €4m on 2015," said a spokesperson.

Health Minister Simon Harris said each hospital has its own unique arrangement in relation to car parking charges "which reflects its specific circumstances".

Arrangements for car parking generally is an operational matter for the HSE. The HSE has advised that it does not provide guidelines on hospital parking and each hospital/ hospital group implements their own guidelines.

"Hospitals which charge parking fees are very cognisant of the financial implications of parking costs for patients and their families, particularly those with long-term illnesses.

"Consequently, a maximum daily fixed parking charge has been introduced in some hospitals, thus capping this expense. I understand that some hospitals also provide reduced rate parking rates for long-term patients and visitors for whom the payment of the full rate would cause hardship," he said.

Meanwhile, a new report from the Department of Health shows that between 2012 and 2014 the number of private patients treated in public hospitals went up by 16,000.

While the number of public patients rose by 95,000 during the same period, the figures show how private patients are increasingly reliant on publicly funded hospitals.

Since 2014, public hospitals can charge insured patients up to €813 a night even if they end up in a public bed.

This has led to a row with health insurance companies with Donal Clancy, head of Laya Healthcare, saying it has been contacted by a number of its insured members.

The patients claimed they were harassed into signing forms so that the public hospital could charge them a private fee.

The problem has been made worse by the HSE's decision to impose targets on public hospitals for the amount of money they should raise from private fees.

The HSE yesterday refused to say how it measures these financial targets set for public hospitals or detail how much each is expected to generate.

A HSE spokesperson said admission staff "are required to speak with patients to establish whether they wish to be treated as a private patient and if necessary ask the patients to sign waiver forms".

She added: "Admission staff are sensitive to the condition of patients when in hospital.

"It is always intended that admission staff will only engage in a conversation with a patient when appropriate."

Irish Independent

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