Queensland Children's Hospital sent sick kids bills to debt collectors. Picture: AAP/David Clark
Queensland Children's Hospital sent sick kids bills to debt collectors. Picture: AAP/David Clark

Qld hospital set debt collectors onto sick kids

THE distraught parents of sick kids were hounded by debt collectors chasing payment for treatment at Queensland Children's Hospital.

Dozens of families, including child cancer patients, received letters demanding they settle bills for medication provided by the hospital pharmacy.

Bosses at the hospital - formerly Lady Cilento Children's Hospital - said the accounts were referred to a debt recovery agency by mistake and Children's Health Queensland CEO Fionnagh Dougan has apologised for any distress caused.

"When CHQ became aware of the error, the debt collection agency was contacted immediately to cease all recovery action and revoke those referrals," Ms Dougan said.

"CHQ has reviewed its internal process and training to avoid a similar incident recurring in the future."

Ms Dougan said no child's medication supply or treatment "was or will be impacted as a result of this incident".

Children’s Health Queensland CEO Fionnagh Dougan.
Children’s Health Queensland CEO Fionnagh Dougan.

Some 27 families were pursued by the debt collectors before they were called off.

The Sunday Mail understands the amounts involved were as small as $19.

A source close to the hospital said: "This is absolutely disgusting. What is wrong with these people? Who in their right mind would ever think it is a good idea to set debt collectors onto the families of sick children?

"These people have enough to cope with. They don't need this rubbish on top. It's unforgivable."

Patient advocates have criticised the action, but praised senior staff for moving quickly to shut down the practice.

Louise Clune (right) with her husband Ralph Breaden. The couple are campaigning for extra oncology beds at Queensland Children’s Hospital. Picture: Renae Droop
Louise Clune (right) with her husband Ralph Breaden. The couple are campaigning for extra oncology beds at Queensland Children’s Hospital. Picture: Renae Droop

Louise Clune, who is campaigning for additional oncology beds at the hospital, said she was aware of cases of parents being chased for debts anecdotally.

"The senior people have put a stop to it. They were quite outraged that this was happening."

Ms Clune, whose 13-year-old son Ryan underwent surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatment for Ewing's sarcoma in his temple, said she received calls from the hospital pharmacy accounts department saying she owed money.

"She (the staff member) was quite rude and abrupt. Because we have a good understanding of credit laws, we shut it down. We had one guy who was distraught because of the messages. I can understand why they want to recoup costs. But you need to handle it with sensitivity."

Hospital bosses say the parents’ accounts were sent to the debt collection agency by mistake. Picture: AAP/David Clark
Hospital bosses say the parents’ accounts were sent to the debt collection agency by mistake. Picture: AAP/David Clark

Ms Dougan said "an administrative processing error" was to blame for the debt collection letters in October.

The Sunday Mail understands families owing money for drugs were referred to a debt collection agency rather than being sent a reminder letter from the Queensland Children's Hospital.

Ms Dougan said: "Children's Health Queensland prioritises the welfare of patient families and works proactively to provide welfare and social support to families who may be experiencing financial hardship associated with their child's healthcare.

"As the chief executive, I have the authority to write off debt in alignment with agreed Queensland Health parameters. There are very specific parameters and they relate to hardship.

"Debt collection is a process defined within Queensland Health policy and may involve, for example, recovery of costs for overseas patients."



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