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The figure is for HSE statutory acute hospitals and does not include voluntary hospitals, the Executive told MI.
The 2017 spend represents an increase of €15,696 from the 2016 total figure of €587,441, which the HSE also supplied to this newspaper.
The highest payment in 2017 was made to LCMS Ltd, which received €239,124 for work done on behalf of 17 hospitals. This was followed by Intrum Justitia Ireland Ltd, which was paid €176, 489 in total by 12 hospitals, and the third-largest amount paid was to Debitask Collection Services, with €114,085 paid in total by five hospitals.
The HSE statutory hospital that spent the highest amount on debt collection agencies in 2017 was Cork University Hospital, which paid €86,889 to Debitask Collection Services, having paid the same company €85,355 the previous year.
Last year, University Hospital Galway paid a total of €71,274 to two debt collection agencies.
Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda, paid €41,958 in total to two debt collection agencies, while Connolly Hospital, Blanchardstown, paid €41,651 last year to LCMS Ltd.
Reports of hospitals employing debt collection agencies to retrieve unpaid hospital fees has proved controversial in recent years, with criticism from some patients and politicians about the practice.
“The HSE continues to work on improving the speed and efficiency of the collection of patient income,” the HSE said in a statement to MI.“The HSE seeks to maximise the recovery of income in a socially responsible, ethical, efficient and cost-effective way.
“It should be noted that the collection of monies owed is a continuous, daily and large-scale process. The major part of amounts invoiced by HSE hospitals, and unpaid at any given moment, relate to private insurers.”