The Government’s decision to scrap inpatient hospital fees for children will help tackle an “unnecessary” financial burden placed on families, campaigners have said.
The Children in Hospital group, which advocates for the welfare of children in hospitals, welcomed the decision as a “step in the right direction”.
Anna Gunning, chief executive of the organisation, said inpatient charges had only added further pressure on parents who were dealing with the stress having a child in hospital.
Ms Gunning said while the changes were welcome, they were “insufficient” to address the full scale of financial challenges parents faced. Research from the group found parents could spend upwards of €100 a day while dealing with a child in hospital, between travel costs, parking, food and accommodation.
Children in Hospital called for a new State payment to assist parents where their children had prolonged or frequent hospital visits during a year.
The Irish Patients Association (IPA) broadly welcomed the announcement on Wednesday but sought assurances that moves to scrap inpatient fees would not have a knock-on effect for operational funding in hospitals.
“It’s especially welcome considering the way inflation has gone now [and affected] families,” said IPA director Stephen McMahon.
“In an awful lot of these cases it is people on low, middle incomes that are being [hit] by those charges so that’s welcome.
“But in the end nothing is for nothing so it’s important that the hospitals are reimbursed for whatever the amount of money it was that they would have been collecting out of these charges, that they’re not penalised.”
Mr McMahon also said similar concessions should be introduced for adults attending hospitals.
Before the announcement, children aged 16 and under were subject to statutory inpatient charges of €80 a day, capped at 10 days, equating to as much as €800 in a year.
Covering both overnight and day case procedures, it will mean most to middle income parents, as those with medical cards were already exempt of such fees. Families with private health insurance have also been able to claim back some of the costs.
The Society of St Vincent de Paul said the saving was important as it was just one of many costs faced by parents of children attending hospitals, even if some were alleviated by medical cards.
“Anything to lift the burden or parents of a child with an illness that requires hospital care is really welcome,” said the organisations head of social justice and policy, Dr Tricia Keilthy.
“We would assist a lot of families with health and hospital related charges, not just inpatient fees but things like parking or food for the day. Particularly if they live outside Dublin and they have to bring them to a specialist children’s hospital and they have an ongoing illness. The costs of that can be huge.”