Cancer patients getting threatening letters from debt collectors

The Irish Cancer Society calls on HSE to stop ‘cruel and unusual’ practice

The Irish Cancer Society is publishing advice for patients on how best to deal with the charges. Photograph: Getty Images

The Irish Cancer Society is publishing advice for patients on how best to deal with the charges. Photograph: Getty Images

 

The HSE should stop referring cancer patients to debt collectors immediately, the Irish Cancer Society has said.

The society said patients are being sent letters threatening legal action and advising that their name will be published in Stubbs Gazette, along with frequent automated calls.

Chief executive of the Irish Cancer Society Averil Power said the letters are causing distress and worry to patients going through cancer treatment.

“Coping with cancer can be the most emotionally, physically and financially challenging time of a person’s life. The last thing they need is the added stress and fear of being hounded by debt collectors, sometimes for as little as €80. The HSE must stop this cruel and unnecessary practice immediately,” said Ms Power.

Cancer patients without a medical card or private health insurance face inpatient charges of up to €800 per year for treatment such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

Where the charges are not paid within 47 days, the patient may be pursued by a debt collection agency under HSE policy.

Léa Hearst, a breast cancer patient living in Dublin said cancer patients should not be pursued by debt collection agencies.

“I’m really grateful the Irish Cancer Society is raising this issue. I was shocked when I started getting calls and letters on a regular basis from a debt collection agency. I found this extremely upsetting in the middle of fighting my cancer,” said Ms Hearst.

“I was very fearful about what it might mean for me if I didn’t deal directly with debt collectors. To be charged for basic treatment was hard to take in the first place, but to have that charge sent to a debt collector added a great deal of stress to a very difficult situation,” she said.

Ms Power said the Irish Cancer Society will be calling on the Minister for Health Simon Harris to abolish inpatient charges for cancer patients in Budget 2020.

“In the meantime, however, the HSE must stop the disgraceful practice of cancer patients being chased by debt collectors,” she said.

The Irish Cancer Society is publishing advice for patients on how best to deal with the charges.

They can also get individual advice and support by calling the Society’s Freephone nurseline on 1800 200 700 or visiting one of its Daffodil Centres in 13 hospitals nationwide.