HSE using debt collectors 'with greater vigour', Irish Cancer Society says

More than €568,00 was spent on debt collectors to pursue patients in 2020
Jack Quann
Jack Quann

14.04 31 Jan 2022

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HSE using debt collectors 'wit...

HSE using debt collectors 'with greater vigour', Irish Cancer Society says

Jack Quann
Jack Quann

14.04 31 Jan 2022

Share this article

The Irish Cancer Society say the HSE is pursuing those who have medical debts with greater vigour, instead of rolling back on the practice.

It comes as reports say the Health Service Executive spent more than €568,000 on debt collectors to pursue patients for unpaid hospital bills in 2020.

Paul Gordon is policy and public affairs manager with the Irish Cancer Society.


He told Lunchtime Live they are not surprised by the figure.

"It was around 700,000 paid to contract debt collectors in 2019 - and that's a 56% rise on the figure paid in 2013.

"So it goes to demonstrate that far from rolling back from this practice, the HSE are actually pursuing it with greater vigour than they have in the past.

"And that's really upsetting for hear - that they are going to be targeted by debt collectors if maybe they forgot to pay an in-patient charge, or they simply don't have the means to do so - that they will be targeted.

"We certainly don't see any moral or ethical reasons as to why the HSE should pursue patients in this way."

He says while there are exemptions for things like COVID-19 or maternity care, there is still a financial barrier for many people.

"People who need health services, people who are sick with COVID for example, we want those people who are seriously ill to be treated appropriately in hospital when they need it.

"And we don't want financial barriers for people who can't afford it.

"And that's the foundation of most public health systems, but in our case not for cancer patients".

And he says a barrier is being placed on those already in the system and undergoing treatment.

"They need treatment, they know they need treatment, and they're getting charged €80 per treatment session.

"The HSE really need to step up and stop this practice".

'Some sort of empathy'

Jean from Dublin was diagnosed with breast cancer in March 2017 and had her first surgery in April.

She says she got a bill before she even knew her own situation.

"I went back six weeks after to have my test results given to me, and at that stage I got a letter that morning in the post for my first hospital stay.

"I explained to them I wasn't finished my journey, I didn't know what stage it was at, I didn't know what type of cancer I had.

"And I was being told that day that I would have to have a second surgery.

"Shortly after that, debt collector letters started to arrive to my home, I hadn't even recovered from the second surgery.

"I was being pursued for a couple of hundred euro because I'd been in the hospital for a couple of nights."

She says she was granted a small stay on the bills that were due, but the pursuit didn't stop.

"The debtor collectors came in, they kept coming after me, until such time as the medical card I'd applied for actually came through.

"But it doesn't take away from the stress of first off being told you've been diagnosed with cancer - you don't know what's going on, what's going to happen to your life.

"Then you start getting these letters, there's bills mounting up, you've applied for a medical card and it's not easy."

She adds: "There has to be some sort of kindness in this, to have some sort of empathy with the people that are being treated in the hospitals for what they're going through".

HSE using debt collectors 'with greater vigour', Irish Cancer Society says

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Main image: A couple look through a pile of medical bills. Picture by: Briana Snyder / Alamy Stock Photo

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