The HSE has been accused of operating in a “cloak of secrecy” this week akin to what happened during the Cold War. Fianna Fáil TD Dara Calleary said elected representatives were finding it extremely difficult to get information from the service and pointed out that although the board of the HSE were all sacked in April, the situation was getting worse.
Figures revealed yesterday (Thursday ) to the Mayo Advertiser showed that the HSE West was owed a staggering €61.2 million by private health insurers at the end of June this year; €13.5 million of this debt is over one year old.
The overall deficit for the service in the west for the first half of the year is €47.3 million, and fears that this could run to €100 million by December could come true if debt collection measures are not fruitful. However if the €47.7 million part of the debt owed by private health insurers, which is less than a year old, was collected it would balance the service’s books, Deputy Calleary pointed out. Why, then, the Ballina TD has asked, are services being cut, beds being closed, clinics and ambulance services being cut back?
Reports this week that the HSE has agreed to write off €6 million of the debt owed to it by the insurance companies has neither been confirmed nor denied by the HSE, despite a direct question put to it by the Mayo Advertiser. Instead a response was received outlining the budget deficit to the end of June and the total amount owed by health insurers.
At a meeting of the HSE West forum in May members heard that the service had overspent €34.6 million in the first four months of the year, and in the following two months this had risen by a further €12.7 million. Warnings by Galway county councillor Mary Hoade at that time that this could run to €100 million by the year end were rubbished by executive members of the forum. However as the debt continues to rise that colossal figure of €100 million is on target, unless the service can collect a substantial amount of money owed to it.
According to the HSE West it has a “cumulative provision for bad debts in our accounts for all debt over one year old. Therefore, if any of this debt is collected, the provision can be reduced and this would reduce the current year deficit.”
The HSE said it take the issue of debt collection very seriously and is cognisant of the fact that any money owned to the service could be used for patient services.
Particular concentration is being placed on the collection of money from private insurance companies, which is the largest single area of patient debt, the statement from the HSE said.
This comes in a week when 59 private nursing home beds are being closed across Mayo due to the Government’s moratorium on recruitment of frontline staff.
The reason for the delay in collecting funds from the insurance companies, according to Liam Minihan, assistant national director of finance for the HSE West, was getting consultants’ signatures on claim forms. He outlined this point at a meeting in May.
In the past there was a tendency for pressure on services to recover during the summer months, but without the relevant figures it is unknown yet how this will impact on the budget deficit for 2011.
Back in May Dr David O’Keeffe, clinical director for acute and continuing care, pointed out that if hospitals were not being paid then consultants were not being paid either. “It’s a bundled form,” he explained, but added it was also a complicated clinical form. He said HSE management was using its “persuasive powers” to encourage consultants to speed up the process.
Cathaoirleach of Mayo County Council Cllr Austin Francis O’Malley said he would be raising the issue at the forum meeting scheduled for next week. He told the Mayo Advertiser that it was “a disgrace” that such massive amounts of money were owed by private health insurers, and he accused the HSE of dragging its feet on the issue. He added that consultants should not be let away with not signing forms and suggested they would be “sacked” if this continued.
Cllr Seamus Weir also questioned the running of the forum this week, saying that elected representatives were fed up finding out information about the health service from the local media first.