Dáil Éireann - Volume 602 - 11 May, 2005

Written Answers. - Hospital Charges.

  89. Mr. Gilmore asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if her attention has been drawn to recent figures produced by the Central Statistics Office showing that hospital charges have risen by 59.9% in three years, more than six times the rate of inflation; if she considers such a level of increase justified; if her attention has been drawn to the hardship that such a level of increase has created; the action she intends to take to address this situation; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [15315/05]

  Ms Harney: On 1 January 2005, the public hospital statutory inpatient charge was increased by €10 to €55 per night, subject to a maximum of €550 in any 12 consecutive months. The charge for a visit to an accident and emergency department was also increased by €10 to €55. This increase in the accident and emergency charge will facilitate more appropriate attendances at accident and emergency units by reducing an incentive for people to attend accident and emergency departments when they might appropriately receive services from general practitioners.

[518] The charges do not apply to a number of categories of person, including those with full eligibility, women receiving services in respect of motherhood, children up to the age of six weeks and children suffering from prescribed long-term diseases. Additionally, the accident and emergency charge does not apply in circumstances where the person has been referred by a medical practitioner or where the attendance results in a hospital admission.

The daily charge of private and semi-private care in major public hospitals was also increased by 25% with effect from 1 January 2005. This income goes towards supporting services in public hospitals. In the interests of equity, it is Government policy to gradually eliminate the effective subsidy for private stays in public hospital beds and relieve the general taxpayers of the burden of carrying these costs. Even with this increase, the cost of providing services to private patients in the major hospitals remains significantly greater than the income from the private insurance companies in many cases. The increase being implemented is aimed at closing that gap.

Under the Health Act 1970, determination of eligibility for health services is the responsibility of the Health Service Executive, HSE. It should be noted that where exemptions do not apply and cases of exceptional need arise, the chief officer of the relevant HSE area has discretion to waive the charge where undue hardship would otherwise be caused. It is open to all persons to apply to the Health Service Executive for health services if they are unable to provide these services for themselves or their dependants without hardship.