AROUND 40,000 people will lose their medical cards under HSE cost-cutting plans for this year.
And the elderly are at higher risk of having to go on a waiting list for a nursing home place this year.
Cuts will also mean certain drugs will no longer be available free to medical-card holders while the allocation for home help remains frozen, despite growing need.
The measures were unveiled by the Health Service Executive (HSE) yesterday in its 2013 service plan, outlining how it will spend its €13.4bn budget.
However, in a bid to make €721m in savings it is to take 20,000 medical cards from people over 70 under new income eligibility rules.
Another 20,000 card holders in younger age groups will also lose the full benefit from the end of this month when it eliminates a range of expenses people previously could include in eligibility criteria such as home-improvement loans.
Falling incomes and unemployment will still mean the HSE will issue another 60,000 new full medical cards and 130,000 GP visit cards this year.
The budget for the Fair Deal scheme is marginally increased from €994m to €998m and, even though 460 nursing home places become available every month, waiting lists for the elderly who need admission are expected to grow.
HSE chief Tony O'Brien said hospitals were spared cuts this year and they would see a rise of 3.5pc in funding compared to the allocations last January.
But the best performing hospitals in 2012 – which cut waiting lists and tackled absenteeism – will get the biggest share of this cake.
Asked if patients on waiting lists in the worst performing hospitals with less funding would suffer, senior HSE executive Jane Carolan said they would all be subject to the same targets regardless of funding.
No adult should wait more than eight months for inpatient treatment and no child should be delayed more than 20 weeks.
No patient should be on an outpatient list to see a specialist for more than a year and the majority of patients in A&E must either get a bed or be discharged within six hours.
The plan also includes:
• A reduction of 4,000 staff through retirements, resignations and a voluntary redundancy scheme.
• Cuts in agency and overtime costs while hiring 1,000 nurses on two-year contracts with salaries of €22,000.