Republic of Ireland news

Government approves drafting laws to abolish hospital charges by April

The minister has pledged to extend free GP services to children aged six and seven, and improve mental health services for children and young people (PA)
Gráinne Ní Aodha, PA

Hospital charges are to be abolished by April under a proposal brought before ministers on Tuesday.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly received approval from Cabinet for draft legislation that would scrap the fees.

The charge for inpatient/day services is currently 80 euro per day, with a maximum of 800 euro, or 10 days, over a year.

The move was included in Budget 2023, and is expected to cost 30 million euro.

Mr Donnelly said that the draft legislation “will remove for everybody the existing financial burden of public inpatient charges when accessing care in a public hospital”.

“This measure builds on the abolition of public inpatient charges for children, which I introduced last year, and is another significant step in ensuring that people have access to affordable healthcare services.”

Mr Donnelly indicated he would introduce the legislation to the Oireachtas in March.

“The General Scheme will now be referred to the Office of the Attorney General for priority drafting of the Bill.

“The text of the Bill will be finalised as a matter of urgency and it is intended to progress the legislation through the Houses of the Oireachtas as a priority in the coming months.”

Mr Donnelly has also pledged to extend free GP care to children aged six and seven, and to expand the free contraception scheme to people aged 30 and under – it is currently available to people aged up to 26.

After a report by the Mental Health Commission into child mental health services found that some children are becoming lost in the system and that follow-up care is not at standard, Mr Donnelly said action is being taken.

He said he and minister of state for mental health Mary Butler are looking at a recommendation to regulate the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) under the Mental Health Act.

“It's calling for the Mental Health Act to be brought in quickly, and minister Butler and I are looking at that, reflecting on the interim report,” Mr Donnelly told RTE Radio One, adding that he wants to see the final report which is due by May.

“One of the reasons there is so much pressure on the system right now is that since Covid, there's been a 33% increase in referrals to youth mental health,” he added.

“The system has responded well in terms of increasing the number of new patients seen by 21%. But a one-third increase in demand in a very short period of time has put the system under immense pressure.”

He said the national clinical lead and the assistant national director roles “will be put in place now”, and a new consultant contract will make it “easier for the HSE to hire psychiatrists”.