A NEW computer system is being bought by the Health Service Executive (HSE) in a bid to centralise the process of collecting unpaid patient fees for the first time.
Up until now, there has been no single system to recoup some of the €200m in outstanding patient charges. Invoices are instead issued by around 200 locations throughout the HSE.
The HSE admits that "there were significant discrepancies, particularly in the delinquent debt management approach".
The tender for the new system has just been issued and the final cost is unknown. However, it likely to be a multi-million euro system.
Earlier this year the Irish Independent revealed how 50,000 patients are in arrears with their hospital bills, with over €500,000 going unpaid every single day.
Now a new Nationwide Credit Management System (NCMS) is being created for the health service. But the establishment of yet another computer system has been criticised by opposition politicians who have warned it could turn into yet another PPARS fiasco.
The HSE says the ultimate aim of the system is to "improve collection rates".
It is hoped it will help to recoup charges from in-patients, out-patients, long-stay patients as well as any fees arising from road accidents.
NCMS will be a financial system capable of issuing all invoices, and providing aggregate financial information.
It will allow the HSE to credit individual hospitals and other centres, and to provide accurate billing and collection data. It will be piloted at a number of hospitals around the country before being rolled out to all other centres.
The new system must be able to work alongside the current SAP system, which is used for ordering products for the HSE.
"It is accepted that there is a high level of monies owed to the HSE at any given time. Failure to collect these monies efficiently leads to a negative cash-flow impact and also leads to a higher level of bad debt provision and write-off as the quality of debt tends to reduce with age," the HSE said.
"The establishment of the HSE as a single entity has provided an opportunity to streamline the income collection and debt management processes. Up to now, while each area followed similar criteria, there were significant discrepancies, particularly in the delinquent debt management approach.
"Different areas have different debt collection methodologies, which results in a lack of consistency in cash management."
The HSE will be conscious that it must be seen to avoid the scandal of the PPARS system, where the cost spiralled from €9m to over €200m and the system is still unable to fulfil its intended functions.
James Reilly, Fine Gael's health spokesman, said he believed the invoice problems should be solved by the HSE in-house and not through issuing a tender.
"It's outrageous what's going on with the HSE bringing in yet more outside consultants. They're just churning out money and it's an absolute scandal," he said.
"The HSE has their own IT people and we have to ask why they are bringing in outside people at a huge cost.
"Their own people should be working on this and using open-source software, which is free and can be adapted freely."
The HSE added that it aimed to "build and deliver a nationwide credit-management protocol, which will maximise the recovery of revenue due to the HSE".
"The protocol will assist in the enhanced delivery of patient healthcare and allows the HSE to fulfil its duties by managing recoveries in a socially responsible, ethical, efficient and cost-effective way at all times."