Councillor among 5,800 people yet to pay A&E bill

University Hospital Galway

University Hospital Galway (UHG) is owed almost €600,000 in unpaid Emergency Department (ED) charges, new figures reveal.

Saolta, the group that manages the city hospital, has confirmed that some €593,400 is owing to UHG in unpaid charges for patients’ visits to ED.

This amount of money in unpaid bills relates to 5,805 patient accounts as of November 31, 2015, Saolta said.

The figures were released to this newspaper under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act.

The ED of UHG has been consistently criticised by patients, staff and politicians for overcrowding, huge numbers of patients on trolleys, and lengthy waiting times to be seen and treated.

An Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Minister for Health Leo Varadkar have both separately agreed that it is not fit for purpose.

A former city mayor and chairperson of the HSE West Regional Health Forum, City Councillor Pádraig Conneely (FG) said he was ‘not surprised’ by the figure, which he said was ‘quite high’.

Cllr Padraic Conneely: “I think patients are resisting payment because they are not getting the standard of treatment”.
Cllr Padraic Conneely: “I think patients are resisting payment because they are not getting the standard of treatment”.

“I think patients are resisting payment because they are not getting the standard of treatment and service that they expect for their visit to the Emergency Department which costs €100. And I wouldn’t blame them . . . I think if you go to the Emergency Department and are seen within a few hours and are treated then people would be happy to pay.

“But when you’re left waiting on trolleys for hours and hours on end, or when you don’t even get a trolley, and then they send you home without being seen and you have to come back again the next day and go through the whole thing all over again . . . people aren’t happy to pay for that service,” he said.

Councillor Conneely, who presented at the ED last Summer, confirmed he is one of the 5,805 patients who has yet to pay his bill.

The long-standing critic of the HSE and certain aspects of the hospital, said he has been billed €300 although it relates to the same visit.

“I was in there Race Week on the Thursday and didn’t even get a trolley. I was waiting on a chair for hours and was sent home. I had to go back in the next day because the pain didn’t go away.

“I had to go through the whole procedure again and tell them everything and was left waiting for hours and then was sent home again. I was in agony. I returned on the Saturday and told them it was serious and that I was not leaving until I got a bed. And then they billed me for three separate visits – I couldn’t believe it!

“I’m not surprised that the hospital is owed that amount of money because like me, many people are probably being billed several times for the same thing,” he said.

Councillor Conneely, who is on the mend, said he would pay €100 but would be disputing being charged three times.

Saolta does not comment on individual cases. In relation to the total owing to UHG, it said the figure relates to “all patients attending the Emergency Department and includes older balances that have been referred to debt collectors which may be written off before the year end. I wish to advise that Galway University Hospitals makes every effort to ensure that outstanding monies are recouped.”