PRICE differences between two of Dublin's major maternity hospitals have led to a call for regulation of fees which expectant mothers are forced to pay.
Semi-private patients at the Rotunda Hospital have to fork out a non-refundable deposit of €1,200, while mothers attending Holles Street Hospital semi-privately pay €500.
The Rotunda raised its price by €400 in the middle of last year, and it says the huge price hike was necessary to curb the demand for services.
But Janette Byrne, spokesperson for Patients Together, said hospital charges should be regulated so that one price 'fits' all patients, since patient care does not vary hugely between the hospitals.
"We should have it regulated so that one price fits all, and it's a one-for-all service. It shouldn't be that just because you can't get a bed in a cheaper hospital that you have to go to a more expensive one. We still hear the same problems from each hospital, the same complaints across the board. I can't see that one hospital is the shining star in medical care and that they therefore deserve to be at a higher price."
Master of the Rotunda Dr Sam Coulter-Smith defended the prices, which followed an increase in the demand for semi-private services.
"We had to find some way of curtailing the demand because it was enormous. We made big improvements to semi-private and private accommodation, and there was some word about it getting around in the city.
"There would be a number of people who had gone private in the past and elected to go semi-private this time round due to their economic situation."
The €1,200 fee includes everything from scans to blood tests, according to the hospital head, while patients pay €110 for ultrasound scans and €313.94 for normal deliveries on top of the €500 fee at Holles Street.
Ms Byrne is demanding that patients seek better value for money among the maternity hospitals.
"Once mothers have their baby and get the treatment, the bill comes and they just sign it. We need to be more assertive and put pressure for a better service and for better value for money," she added.
Dr Coulter-Smith said during last year alone, the hospital saw the demand for semi-private care increase by up to 15pc.
But a lack of services and long waiting lists in the public system has caused the increase in demand for the semi-private care, according to Ms Byrne.
"With overcrowding in maternity hospitals, people are pushed to go to hospitals that they don't necessarily want to," she said.