Local public hospitals owed €23m

University and Merlin Park hospitals are owed more than €23 million from private health insurers. And most hospital consultants are offenders and are costing the health authority millions by failing to sign off on these claims, according to one local politician.

City councillor and former chairperson of the HSE West's regional health forum Padraig Conneely has accused these doctors who fail to comply of "obviously not caring" and claims they "rule" the hospitals.

He is also highly critical of the hospitals' debt collection system slamming it as "inefficient".

Responding to a written reply to a question he had posed about the amount outstanding from the private health insurance companies to UHG/Merlin Park at a forum meeting in Merlin Park Hospital he said it indicated that there were 170 consultants involved. He stated there are 185 consultants in the hospitals altogether.

"All of them are at it," said Cllr Conneely who has been outspoken on the issue for the past number of years, calling at one stage for the offenders to be named and shamed or penalised financially for their inaction or tardy action. "Obviously, they don't care, they are not complying."

The patient debtors report as of May 31 2017 reveals that there is €23.7 million outstanding from private health insurance companies to Galway University Hospitals (UHG and Merlin Park ). The figures for the whole of last year amounted to €21 million. The highest number of consultants are involved this year - 170 - compared with 158 last year and 138 in 2014.

The report outlines that there were 2,875 claims awaiting primary consultant action (less than one year ) so far in 2017. These were valued at €6.2m. There were 244 claims awaiting primary consultant action (greater than one year ) and these amounted to €487,796. The total value of claims awaiting consultant action is €6.6m.

In her written reply Ann Cosgrove, the chief operating officer of the Saolta University Group, explained that delays in payments from private health insurers are due to a number of reasons:

• Claims awaiting consultant action

• Claims that are submitted and awaiting payment

• Claims that have been submitted to the insurers and returned requesting the hospital/consultant to provide additional information in support of the claim

• Claims that have been submitted to the insurers and are now pended as patient or consultant information has been requested by the private health insurers

Cllr Conneely was highly critical of the way in which Saolta deals with these outstanding sums and said the system was "inefficient". He believed there was one rule for patients and another for hospital consultants.

"The consultants rule the hospitals. If some poor divil in A&E doesn't pay €100 [fee] they would be in court in three months."

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