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Dublin: 15 °C Wednesday 20 March, 2019
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Dáil hears of woman with spinal and brain cancer who lost medical card

The story was one of many outlined as part of a Sinn Féin motion this evening.

Image: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

THE DÁIL THIS evening has heard a number of stories about severely ill children and adults who have had their medical cards withdrawn.

The stories came as Sinn Féin tabled a motion calling on the Government to reverse the cuts to discretionary medical cards imposed in the HSE’s plans for 2014.

Introducing the motion, Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD read out a letter from the Jack and Jill Foundation to Health Minister James Reilly which said that parents are being “pushed to the edge” by the removal of the cards.

The foundation, which currently works with about 300 sick children, described the process of reviewing medical cards as a “hellish lottery”.

“We have seen parents not sleeping, not coping, pushed over the edge by the tortuous process of rejection letters and appeals…Parents have to fight for every little support for their children,” the letter said.

Overall, the foundation calls for the medical card application process to be “reviewed, refreshed and redesigned to recognise the child in his or her own right”.

Ó Caoláin also spoke about the case of a 3-year-old girl who suffered a stroke and has had her medical card removed. Decisions should be based on need not income, he argued.

“People are rightly asking why a 5-year-old will soon be automatically entitled to GP card when an older child with a serious terminal illness will not,” added the deputy.

PastedImage-67190 Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin read out the Jack an Jill letter this eveing. Source: Oireachtas/Screengrab

Inundated

Cork TD Jonathan O’Brien said he has been inundated with stories about medical cards that have been taken away.

In a number of cases he added that some people who’ve been in the medical card review process have had their medical care removed because the process took so long:

A woman who had spinal cancer was called for a review and asked to outline all the expenses that arise from her illness. When she went back to the consultant, she was told that she has brain cancer. When they returned home they found a letter saying that she had lost her medical card.

O’Brien also spoke about a three-year-old girl with a severe medical condition  that affects her breathing, movement and the ability to verbalise to the extent that she cannot speak or cry.

He said that the child’s condition is so severe that the parents have not been able to estimate her medical costs, her medical card has also been withdrawn he said.

“There is no such thing as recovering from a terminal illness,” said O’Brien.

The last thing these people need to be worrying about is how they are going to pay for the help for their loved one. They don’t want to have to run up and down to doctors asking them to provide evidence of their costs so that they can engage in a review.

Michael Colreavy TD argued that along with the austerity that has been implemented by the last two Governments, compassion has also been lost.

“How have we sunk so low that we’re hurting the young and vulnerable in our society…Do you not understand the parents of those who are terminally ill and devote all their energy to caring for their children,” Colreavy asked the Government.

No policy to abolish

Minster for State for Primary Care Alex White was representing the Government in the debate and said that contrary to media reports there was “no policy to abolish discretionary medical cards”. He added that there is also “no targeting in order to reduce these cards”.

“While I accept that there are people who have lost the cards, cards have not been arbitrarily withdrawn. There has been no change to the rules,” he said.

White said that figures show that reviews of income levels for discretionary medical cards have led to between 5,500 and 6,000 being taken away from individuals.

He said that about 6 per cent of reviews have led to cards being withdrawn.

White said that he agrees that “if you have an illness you should be able to access the health service”, agreeing that there are some elements to the service that are not fit for purpose but that changes need to come incrementally:

 We cannot simply shoehorn the old system into the new…If we introduce an illness system into the current system I would foresee problems.

White explained that if there was a system that provided medical cards to everyone with an illness there would be an instant issue in deciding which illnesses would qualify.

Read: Mother was asked by the HSE if her son ‘still had Down syndrome’ >

Read: Pharmacists accuse government of lying on medical card withdrawals >

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Rónán Duffy

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