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Photograph: Freeimages.com/Jelle Boontje

A public hospital in an impoverished southern Italian region failed to collect 150,000 patient bills over three years, an oversight that cost 4.7 million euros (5.25 million dollars), tax police Guardia di Finanza said Monday.

Calabria, home to the notorious Ndrangheta mafia, has Italy's lowest pro-capita gross domestic product, standing at less than 15,000 euros, and a chronically cash-strapped health sector. In 2014, its deficit surpassed 41 million euros.

To help balance the books, Calabrians are supposed to pay 25-40 euros for every non-urgent hospital treatment, but an unnamed clinic did not ask for the money in more than 95 per cent of cases during 2011-14, the Guardia di Finanza said.

In a statement, the police corps said it reported four hospital managers to the Court of Auditors, a national financial watchdog that may start judicial proceedings and order the culprits to reimburse the taxpayer.

According to latest available figures, published by the Court of Auditors in June, Italy's national health service recorded an 836-million-euro deficit in 2014, down by about 50 per cent compared to 2013.

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