By Shelley Marsden
Northern Ireland’s health minister has revealed that he is thinking about bringing in charges for patients that turn up to A&E’s in NI drunk or high on drugs.
Edwin Poots, who says the influx of such people in emergency departments is partly to blame for missed targets, has argued that the move will stop people abusing free healthcare, but nursing union RCN has called the idea “unfeasible”.
According to figures from April to June, targets for treating patients were missed 700 times in local hospitals.
Poots has suggested people paying for emergency care if alcohol or drugs contribute to their for hospital treatment. “The principle of it has merit. The implementation of it is more challenging. We need to ensure that people who need medical care are not put off receiving that medical care.”
But the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) has said the idea was unfeasible. The RCN’s regional spokesperson Roisin Devlin said: “The NHS has a duty to care for all, and the principle is that it’s free at the point of care.
“My concern would be where the line would be drawn and who would decide which patients should be charged. It’s not something that emergency nurses would be keen to do.”
Poots’s cabinet colleague in the regional devolved government, justice minister David Ford, has also raised the possibility of fining people who are drunk and disorderly at music concerts in the province.
Ahead of the Belsonic music festival in Belfast this weekend, Ford warned that fans could face court fines of up to £250 for being drunk in public – as well as fixed penalties between £40 and £80.