A Galway widow who owes the HSE West a €100 A&E fee is being threatened with legal action, yet some hospital consultants at University and Merlin Park Hospitals are costing the health authority millions by failing to sign off private health insurance claims promptly, the chairperson of the HSE West’s regional health forum said this week.
Cllr Padraig Conneely called on the HSE to adopt a more “aggressive approach” to the offending consultants and to show more understanding to the Galway woman with limited means.
His comments came hot on the heels of the revelation at a meeting of the health forum on Tuesday that University and Merlin Park Hospitals are owed €18.8 million from private health insurance companies because the HSE has difficulty getting some hospital consultants to sign the paperwork necessary to complete the claim process. The meeting heard that €6.5 million of the total amount is outstanding for more than a year.
He said while this “enormous” debt exists, a widow is being “pursued vigorously” by the health authority for €100, an A&E fee incurred by her son.
“I understand the HSE is pursuing patients very vigorously for money owed. I had a case recently where a widow in Galway got on to me in a panic because she was unable to pay an A&E bill. Her son is over in England and is on the NHS. He got sick while he was at home here and had to go to the hospital. The next day a bill was sent out to her and she was told if it was not paid the matter will be handed over to a solicitor. All for €100, yet there is an outstanding debt of almost €19m from private health insurers because some consultants are not signing off claim forms promptly.”
The former city mayor stated that the millions owed represent a “major financial setback” for the cash strapped UHG and Merlin Park hospitals, especially at a time when they they are struggling to maintain frontline services. Both public hospitals have overrun their budget by more than €9 million so far this year it was revealed this week.
“To have such an amount of money owing from private health insurance companies is unacceptable. Because consultants are slow or neglectful in signing off on the patient’s files the HSE is unable to submit final accounts to the insurance companies. I find it absolutely shocking that almost €19m is owed, that must be the biggest amount outstanding in any hospital in the country.”
Cllr Conneely said it was time to adopt a more aggressive approach with the consultants who are holding up the collecting of vital finance for the city’s hospitals.
“They are holding the hospital to ransom. The softly softly approach is not working, it is time to get tough with them. It is very unfortunate that they are acting like this when they know the financial situation the hospital is in. They should be more co-operative in signing off those documents.”
He outlined the Minister for Health believed disciplinary action must be taken against the consultants and a number of measures were being examined.
He said he hoped the appointment of an additional three-person management team at Galway University Hospitals - a chief executive, chief financial officer and chief operating officer - who are expected to be in place next month will help resolve this problem.