£620,000 unpaid by cross-border patients

Every means possible will be used by the Western Trust to recoup £620,000 in unpaid medical bills from patients in the Republic, the Health Minister has said.

Edwin Poots told the ‘Journal’ the outstanding bills for various treatments to patients from Donegal and other border areas in the past two years was “concerning”. It was revealed this week that in the past year alone £345,000 worth of medical treatment went unpaid to the Western Trust while a further £275,000 from the previous year also remains outstanding.

Speaking at Altnagelvin Hospital, Mr Poots said: “I’ll be encouraging the Western Trust to ensure every means is pursued to ensure that the money comes in. We have lots of needs and there are lots of pressures out there - obviously under the current circumstances there have been cuts to the budget. So if there is money outstanding which can reduce the impacts of those cuts then we want to get it in.”

He added that the border will not hinder the debt collection process - “w e will ensure that every effort is made to bring this money in.”

SDLP Health spokesman Mark H Durkan said he hoped the money can be recovered but stressed the importance of the situation not being used as leverage by those opposed to closer cross border co-operation. “I would hate to think that this particular problem will be used by opponents of North South co-operation as a reason for not furthering co-operation.”

A spokesperson for the Western Trust said: “All outstanding invoices for these treatments are pursued and payment remains the responsibility of individual patients. In the majority of cases amounts outstanding are received by the Trust.” The spokesperson said there were many legitimate reasons why payment may be delayed from cross-border patients.