Update: The Irish Cancer Society has said that hospitals can waive charges or agree instalment plans for cancer patients who are finding it difficult to pay charges in cases of “excessive hardship”.
The head of the Cancer Society, Averil Power, said that, however, these alternatives are not always made known to patients.
The charity is calling on the Government to change legislation which allows the HSE to hire debt collection agencies to pursue cancer patients for fees for chemotherapy.
Letters from debt collection agencies are causing great distress to cancer patients, the head of the Cancer Society, Ms Power told RTE’s Morning Ireland.
“Cancer patients who don’t have a medical card or private health insurance have to pay for each treatment, €80 per chemo session with a cap of €800 per year,” she explained.
The charges are inpatient fees and are the same for all patients, the difference being, she said, that cancer patients require regular treatment, sometimes for months.
At present, the HSE policy is that 47 days after an invoice is issued if it is not paid, it is referred to a debt collection agency, said Ms Power.
The Irish Cancer Society will today publish guidelines to make people aware of the alternatives and options open to them, she said.
“This is HSE policy, that’s why we’re calling to have it changed. It is up to the Government to stop the policy of pursuing cancer patients. It is the law so we’re urging the Government to change the law.
“To be pursued in such a particular way is incredibly unfair. It is totally unacceptable. It should stop.”
There are calls for the HSE to stop referring cancer patients' debt to collection agencies.
The Irish Cancer Society says the practice is causing distress and worry to those going through treatment.
The Irish Cancer Society said that many people receiving chemotherapy or radiotherapy treatment without health insurance or a medical card are being "hounded" by debt collectors.
The charity, which is today publishing advice on the issue, says they have received complaints from many patients.
Chief Executive of the Irish Cancer Society, Averil Power, said the sums sought can vary but the whole process is very unfair.
Ms Power said: "Ranging from just €80 in some cases up to €800 or more in others, so they are getting letters from debt -collecting agencies, threatening phone calls, threats that their name will be made public if they don't the fees.
"These letters are being sent to six patients who are dealing with the physical impact of their cancer, the emotional impact and all the other stresses with their family and they really can't cope with this stress, as well."
Ms Power said there are options for patients.
She said: "I'm encouraging them to engage with the Finance Manager in the hospital even if a debt-collection agency has already been engaged.
"I am also making them aware that while agencies can legally pursue debt they can't make demands in a way that is threatening or so frequent that it causes great alarm or distress.
"We also want to make patients aware that we can help at the Irish Cancer Society."