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

Dara Bradley

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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.”

CITY TRIBUNE

Gardaí bid to identify body recovered near Mutton Island

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Gardai have launched an investigation following the discovery of a body in Galway Bay yesterday afternoon.

A member of the public raised the alarm after spotting the body in the water while walking on the causeway to Mutton Island.

Galway Fire Service, Gardai and the RNLI attended the scene and recovered the body at around 4pm, before it was taken to University Hospital Galway for a post mortem.

It is understood that the body may have been in the water for some time.

Gardaí are currently examining a list of missing people in the city.

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Connacht Tribune

Gardaí investigate fatal Carraroe crash

Enda Cunningham

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A man in his 30s has died following a road crash in Carraroe in the early hours of this morning.

At 3.50am, Gardaí and emergency services attended at a single car collision on a minor road.

The driver of the car, a man in his 30s, was pronounced dead at the scene a short time later. A passenger in the car, a male in his 30s, was taken by ambulance to Galway University Hospital. His injuries are not thought to be life threatening.

The road is currently closed and local diversions are in place. Garda forensic collision investigators will examine the crash site this morning.

Anyone with information is asked to contact Salthill Garda Station (091) 514 720 the Garda Confidential Line 1800 666 111 or any Garda Station.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Land Development Agency rules out Merlin ‘land grab’

Dara Bradley

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From this week’s Galway City Tribune – Campaigners have warned the Land Development Agency (LDA) to keep its hands off Merlin Woods.

Local community group Friends of Merlin Woods said that the amenity on the east side of the city is not suitable for residential development.

It has sought clarification on whether the LDA has earmarked part of the recreational and amenity lands for housing, after it appeared on its online database of publicly-owned lands.

In a statement to the Galway City Tribune, the LDA said its database compiles a list of all State lands, not just land for development.

In relation to Merlin Woods, the LDA said: “Those lands aren’t included in the LDA developments in Galway. The lands database is a map-based tool which compiles all State lands and has no reflection on development potential.”

It came after Caroline Stanley of Friends of Merlin Woods raised concern that land within Merlin Woods had been earmarked for development.

“I’d be concerned that it’s marked as residential when it’s in RA (Recreational and Amenity) land. Some is marked ‘open space’ but some is marked as ‘new proposed residential’ on its [LDA’s] database. It makes us wonder why. We’d like clarity and to clear it up.

“The message we’d like to get out there is we need clarification, whether it’s a mistake on the Land Development Agency’s part, or whether it is an area that they consider as a residential area, which the community would be opposed to. We need clarity. It could be something that is in line for development later on, we don’t know, and we need clarity.”

Councillor Owen Hanley explained that the fears around Merlin Woods stem from legislation currently making its way through the Oireachtas that would strip councillors of powers to veto the transfer of land to the LDA for housing projects.

The Bill would also allow Government to direct what public lands – including those owned by local authorities – can be transferred to the LDA for development of social and affordable housing.
This is a shortened preview version of this article. To read the rest of the story, see this week’s Galway City Tribune. You can buy a digital edition HERE.

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