OUTRAGED patients have slammed a new phonecall charge by Tallaght hospital, fearing it may be the "thin end of the wedge" in a new range of fees.
From today. the hospital will charge up to €2.50 for a call making an appointment for a blood test at its clinic.
Steve McMahon of the Irish Patients' Association said: "We would be very concerned that this is a marker for future charges or additional taxes on getting access to healthcare.
"I plan to get in touch with the hospital CEO to see what this is all about.
"I can't see the logic of charging people for making appointments, because you have to be referred by a GP to get a blood test in the first place and surely the GP can make the appointment through the internet.
"The bigger fear is that this is the thin end of the wedge and that other charges will be introduced."
Tallaght Mayor Cathal King described the charge as "absolutely disgraceful. It's a crazy idea to charge you for ringing up for an appointment for a blood test.
"I certainly hope this idea will not be picked up by other hospitals. People are hard-pressed enough."
The new service has been defended by the hospital as a system that will "significantly improve the existing patient experience through streamlining the service and reducing the waiting time".
Patients looking for a blood test can ring the hospital and be given a specific appointment, rather than queue up at the Adult Phlebotomy Department.
The call, however, will cost €2.03 from a landline and €2.50 from a mobile. A spokesperson said they would not benefit from the money, but she was not in a position to explain where the money was going.
The paid phonecall was one of three options available to patients, who could also book the test through their GP or book online, she said.
The spokesperson stressed that the blood test itself was free and the initiative had been "discussed in advance and supported by the hospital's local GP Liaison Committee".
The new service was "primarily web-based but where patients do not have access to the internet bookings may be made by their GP".
She also dismissed suggestions that the phone call was a premium rate.