THE HSE spent €10,000 on debt collection services at Letterkenny University Hospital (LUH) last year to recoup outstanding patient fees. The Donegal News obtained the figures through a Freedom of Information request from the Hospital’s Finance Department.
The use of debt collectors has been condemned by Chairperson of Donegal Action for Cancer Care (DACC) Betty Holmes who said the harassment of patients should not be happening. Ms Holmes said €10,000 was a “scary amount” to be spending on debt collectors and said the money could be better spent.
Ms Holmes said:“Patients and their families don’t need to be receiving letters, there has to be another way. It shouldn’t be happening, end of story. We totally disagree with it. This amount of money is being used needlessly and is not being directed into patient services. Why are they being referred to debt collectors – who benefits from it? Is there not enough staff in the hospital to follow it up in a respectful manner?”
In response to a request for information on debt collection fees the hospital’s Finance Manager said: “The HSE Financial Regulations require all outstanding debt to be referred to a Debt Collection Service and in accordance with these regulations periodic reviews are carried out on all outstanding debt to comply with this requirement. The Hospital is happy to facilitate an instalment arrangement with periodic payments over an agreed period of time when patients advise that they are experiencing difficulty in settling their account. When this contact is made with the Hospital and the agreement is complied with then these accounts are not passed to the Debt Collection service. In 2019 Letterkenny University Hospital incurred costs of approx. €9.900 in respect of this service.”
Ms Holmes said hospital management need to negotiate a better deal with the company that operates car parking at the hospital to ensure it gets a bigger percentage of the money generated through parking fees. She suggested that this money could be put towards what the hospital perceives as outstanding patient bills.
The amount the hospital spent on debt collectors in 2019 is down on the previous year when costs of almost €18,000 were incurred. However, this figure was more than double what was spent two years earlier in 2016 when €8,600 was spent trying to chase down debts. A further €10,000 was spent by the hospital on debt collectors in 2017.