All hospital inpatient and outpatient fees to be dropped next year

Eilish O'Regan

All hospital inpatient and outpatient charges are set to be scrapped next year – saving patients up to €30m annually, the Irish Independent can reveal.

The €80 a day inpatient charge for a hospital stay or day-case procedure – capped at €800 a year – is among the levies faced by patients without medical cards or full private cover.

It is becoming an increasing financial burden as more people grapple with the strain of the cost-of-living crisis.

Many cancer patients attending for chemotherapy and radiotherapy sessions are also subject to the charge.

With average length of a hospital stay around five days, the abolition could lead to a patient saving of €400.

VHI and Laya Healthcare yesterday confirmed health insurance companies must also include the charge in the fees paid to public hospitals to cover their members treated there as inpatients.

Both would examine how such a move could impact premiums. But it would have no direct impact on subscribers whose premiums have an excess.

Writing in the Irish Independent today, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said: “We are actively exploring removing hospital charges for all public patients who are availing of inpatient care in our hospitals.”

Asked how soon this might happen a spokesman for the minister said the hope is to “do it in 2023, subject to funding”.

Inpatient charges for children will end in August. An outpatient charge of €100 can be sought if a public patient attends a clinic without a letter of referral from a GP.

The removal of the charges is in line with Sláintecare but the Government would have to reimburse hospitals for the lost revenue and this would need to be part of the October Budget.

The emergency department charge of €100 will remain.

Mr Donnelly said: “For far too long access to care and health outcomes have been adversely impacted by ability to pay. I believe that health services should be affordable, or free at the point of delivery.”

He also said the number of patients on active waiting lists would be reduced to “its lowest point in five years”.

Earlier this week HSE chief Paul Reid struck a more cautious tone and warned this year's waiting list targets are challenging.

He pointed to the disruption faced by hospitals in the early months of 2022 due to Covid-19 and the need for infection control measures.

It is also unclear what impact another Covid-19 surge in the autumn and winter could have on services.

The most recent waiting list figures for April show the extent of the massive backlog of patients who need to be seen or treated.

There are 624,773 patients waiting for a first hospital outpatient consultation and 79,943 in need of an appointment for inpatient or day-case treatment.

A further 27,747 patients were waiting to receive an appointment for their gastrointestinal endoscopy. The figures fail to convey the level of distress and pain faced by many of these patients.

Hospital consultants pointed out that the Sláintecare plan promised nobody would be waiting for more than 10 weeks for a public hospital outpatient appointment.

But currently, 345,000 public patients are on outpatient waiting lists for over six months.

They said there has been a three-fold increase in patients waiting longer than eighteen months in the past five years.

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