Patient followed by A&E staff asking if she was 'private'
An investigation is underway into claims a female patient at a hospital A&E department experienced high blood pressure after she was followed around by a member of staff "with a clipboard" asking if she was a private patient.
The case has been brought to the attention of Health Minister Simon Harris by Social Democrat TD Catherine Murphy, who was contacted by the patient.
"She was followed around to the point where a medic had to be called because her blood pressure became a problem.
"She documented to me how she was followed up on after she left the hospital and I was really alarmed at what she said," Ms Murphy said.
The incident was highlighted at the Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC) and follows claims by health insurance companies that public hospitals must now charge insurers the full cost of a public bed if it is occupied by a private patient.
The hospitals have been set targets by the HSE to generate private income, which is adding to the pressure on staff to quiz patients who might be fee-paying.
Ms Murphy asked HSE chief Tony O'Brien and head of finance Stephen Mulvaney to account for the apparently aggressive approach which could compromise the health of patients at a very vulnerable point in their care.
Mr Mulvaney said the law to allow for charging of private patients in public wards has been in place for a number of years.
"All staff are aware it is a difficult time for patients being in A&E," he said.
He would not condone any situation where a patient would be harassed and it is regrettable if they were.
"That incident should not have happened. I would suggest it is not the norm," he said.
But he added hospitals are obliged to raise the charges.
Around 7pc to 8pc of hospital income comes from private fees.
More than €600m is raised by hospitals nationally this way.
Most of the fees are imposed on patients who are admitted as inpatients through A&E, Mr Mulvaney added.
He sampled 14 hospitals last year.
If there are shortfalls in targets by some hospitals, they should improve their processes and "it stops there".
Meanwhile, in an update on the case of Grace, the girl who was left in foster care in the south east for more than 20 years despite abuse, the HSE said that a disciplinary process involving some staff is now underway.
Mr O'Brien also confirmed that some of the staff involved in the case were promoted in the 1990s.
A report, carried out by Deloitte which was commissioned over a year ago, is due in the coming weeks, looking at whether the disability organisation which raised the case of Grace through a whistleblower suffered financially as a result.