Tuesday 12 December 2017

Private patients 'bullied' into paying extra €813 hospital care charge

Health Minister Simon Harris has ordered a review. Picture: Tom Burke
Health Minister Simon Harris has ordered a review. Picture: Tom Burke

Laura Lynott

The chief executive of Laya Healthcare has said private patients are being bullied into waiving their legal right to be treated in the public system, at a cost of €813.

Donal Clancy has labelled the system "double taxation" and has written to Health Minister Simon Harris noting complaints from private patients.

They claimed they were bullied by administration staff in public hospitals to sign away their right to be treated as public patients. Private healthcare is charged at €813 a night, even if the patient has only been treated on a chair or trolley.

A 2014 memo from the HSE finance department stated that the new protocol from the Department of Health was that all private patients had to be charged for inpatient services in public hospitals. Former health minister James Reilly intended for this move to raise more than €30m a year from insurance companies.

Yesterday, Mr Clancy told RTÉ Radio 1: "What additional services are they getting if they sign this (waiver)?

"If they sign it... they have to understand there will be a charge of €813 rather than €80 - it's a substantial difference.

"If our member wants to waive, it's fine, but they have to be told, not in a circumstance where vulnerable and unwell people are being asked to do it."

RTÉ reported that one patient receiving chemotherapy at a public hospital had complained that she was "hassled" into signing a waiver. Another patient claimed he had been told he would receive no further treatment if he did not sign.

Another woman alleged she was told that if she used her medical card, she would receive limited treatment.

Jim Dowdall, chief executive of Irish Life Health, echoed Mr Clancy's concerns.

He has highlighted a recent case when a patient treated in a public hospital as a public patient left hospital and went home, only to receive a letter with a waiver form enclosed. Mr Dowdall said the patient was not even notified of how much the charges were.

He said this behaviour was "totally inappropriate".

The Department of Health said it acknowledged that people had "a right to be treated as public patients", and it was "working with the HSE to ensure a consistent approach and monitoring system".

It added that admissions staff were "sensitive of the conditions of patients", and they only "engaged" with patients after "consultations with clinical staff involved in the treatment of the patient".

The HSE said it was "aware of some concerns over the waiver" and realised the system "could be more patient-friendly".

But it added that hospitals were "merely complying with a statutory obligation," adding that the waiver form was introduced at the request of insurers.

Mr Harris has ordered a review and the Department of Health and HSE want to discuss the matter with insurers.

Irish Independent

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