The latest figures from the Health Insurance Authority show that 21,000 people dropped their inpatient health insurance during the first three months of this year.

There are now just more than 2 million people with inpatient cover, compared with almost 2.3 million people when the market peaked at the end of 2008.

Rising premiums and the recession have been the main factors in people giving up inpatient private health insurance.

Since the end of 2008, the number of people with cover has been reducing, year on year.

The four main insurers paid out €1.7bn in claims last year, a drop of 4%.

The average claim for each insured person last year was just over €1,000, a decrease of 2% on the previous year.