CANCER patients who are already struggling financially will be forced to pay an extra €50 per year in hospital fees from next month.
The Irish Independent has learnt that the daily charge of €75 for public patients undergoing chemotherapy is to rise to €80, leaving a patient needing at least 10 treatments over the course of a year with an €800 bill. Currently, the fees are capped at €750 in one year.
If their treatment runs into a new calendar year, they are liable for a new round of charges, which could potentially double to €1,600.
The increase is set to cause even more hardship for cancer patients who do not have a medical card or health insurance and are having to go to the Irish Cancer Society for financial help.
Several cash-strapped hospitals confirmed yesterday they were asking chemotherapy patients to pay the €75 daycare charge, which is allowed for in long-established legislation.
A spokesman for St James's and St Vincent's hospitals in Dublin said the patients were invoiced after their stay and if this was causing hardship there were "appeals procedures". A spokesman for Beaumont Hospital said the €75 was not specific to cancer patients.
"The hospital has never used the services of debt collectors for collection of these charges and has no plans to do so."
A spokesman for Limerick Regional Hospital said every charge not collected meant there was less money to spend on other areas of care.
But Joan Kelly of the Irish Cancer Society said the distressed patients indicated hospitals were now pursuing people more vigorously. As many as 1,700 patients sought help this year and got average payments of €500.
Many people who apply for a medical card are turned down after a means test and although the HSE fast-tracks hardship cases, there can be hold-ups due to paperwork.
Juliette Herbst, a medical social worker in St James's Hospital, said the unexpected costs can plunge them into a crisis.
"The most vulnerable are young families, self-employed, lone parents who rely on one income, migrant workers with poor English, young people of working age and older retired couples where the patient may be also the carer of their spouse," she told a briefing yesterday.