Debt collectors hired as cancer patients hit with a €75 daily charge
Sick and dying cancer patients are being pursued by cash-strapped public hospitals for €75 a day for chemotherapy treatment.
Debt collectors are being employed in some cases to pursue the patients for the daycare fees, which are capped at €750 in one year.
The hospitals are entitled to impose the day charge under long-established legislation, but until recently most were exempting cancer patients from the levy.
The distress caused to patients fighting a life-threatening illness has been highlighted by the Irish Cancer Society, which is fielding a growing number of helpline calls in the past three weeks about the practice.
The society will today reveal the increased desperation of many cancer patients who are struggling to pay bills for basics such as travel and heat while also coping with the physical and psychological effects of their illness.
Spokeswoman Kathleen O'Meara said medical card holders and people with private health insurance are covered for the €75-a-day charge -- but hospitals are free to demand it from the thousands of remaining patients.
Around 30,000 people in Ireland are diagnosed with cancer annually and chemotherapy is a necessary treatment in most cases.
Under law, a patient undergoing any form of daycare procedure, who is not covered, must pay €75 a time.
"Hospitals in Dublin and outside of Dublin are asking for the charge. Patients who contacted our helpline are extremely worried because they cannot afford it," she told the Irish Independent.
A spokeswoman for the Health Service Executive (HSE) said hospitals are under huge financial pressure and they are required to collect the €75 charge.
A patient who needs chemotherapy can spend months attending a hospital getting different courses that involve treatment with breaks in between.
The patients are also feeling the burden of hospital car parking charges, which can leave them more than €7 a day out of pocket.
"The other issue is the cost of heating. Cancer patients can be particularly affected by the cold and because they are off work they are at home more."
Ms O'Meara said that the charity's financial aid scheme has seen a 36pc rise in cancer patients seeking help in the last three years and it is now giving out over €1m to help people with the disease get by.
"We run a voluntary transport scheme, which involves people giving free car rides to patients to and from hospital. That is now operating in 10 hospitals," she added.
Hospitals are under pressure to collect outstanding debts and at the end of last year as much as €117m was outstanding.
At the end of this year hospitals, which have seen their annual budgets slashed, will have €160m in overruns, while Tallaght Hospital in Dublin is among those that has had to get an overdraft to pay its bills.
The hospitals are increasingly turning to debt-collection agencies and they paid out €815,860 to these firms in the first eight months of the year.
Beaumont Hospital in Dublin and Tullamore Hospital in Co Offaly paid the highest amounts to these firms.