St. James’s Hospital, Dublin, serves a catchment area which includes Crumlin, Drimnagh, Bluebell, Inchicore, Dolphin’s Barn and Ballyfermot. For those of you not familiar with the geography of Dublin, it’s important to understand that these are by no means universally wealthy areas. There are undoubtedly well-off people living in some of these places. There is also plenty of socially affordable housing, however, as well as a large number of council-estates. With this in mind and with Ireland’s claims of free health services, one might imagine that the hospital’s amenities would be reasonably priced. After all, surely a sick person shouldn’t have to pay over the odds for a bottle of water or a bowl of soup.
Let’s examine the evidence then shall we?
In the ground floor café, a bottle of water costs €2.10. A coke is €2.20. A wrap is €4.85. An apple Danish is €2.60. A bowl of soup is €3.75. Perhaps most outrageous is the €6.25 being charged for a small turkey-club sandwich. These prices might seem reasonable for a deli in Blackrock but this is a hospital in Dublin 8. Then we come to the parking situation. Each of the first 6 hours will cost you €2.50. In the interests of fairness it should be noted that the price for 24 hours is the same as the price for 6 hours (€15). But € 15 for six hours is still a large sum of money when one considers that patients’ families might easily spend that duration in the hospital on a daily basis.
At that rate, one could be spending €105 per week on parking alone. Add in the relatively high cost of food and one ends up with people spending their entire social welfare cheque on hospital visits. Even for a wealthier person, this level of expense would quickly add up, especially given the likelihood for additional medical and medicinal expenses. Few people consider hospitals to be enjoyable places to visit, be it as a patient or as a concerned well-wisher. Having an illness or a family member/loved one with a serious illness is a traumatic experience at the best of times. Do people in such a situation really need the additional stress of expensive parking and refreshments?
In Ireland, we pride ourselves on our progressive, inclusive medical service in spite of the well documented problems with its implementation. What is the point of such a system, however, if we then allow the expenses related to a hospital visit to become unmanageable? Unfortunately, this very much seems like another example of a society giving with one hand whilst taking with the other. Until we begin to address such contradictions and hypocrisies, which are inherent throughout our system, we will never achieve equitable services for all. This may seem like one small example but it’s certainly an important one for all those affected.