News Health

Wednesday 3 September 2014

4,000 medical cards have been returned after climbdown

Eilish O'Regan

Published 28/06/2014 | 02:30

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Tony O'Brien, Director General of the HSE
Tony O'Brien, Director General of the HSE

MORE than a quarter of the discretionary medical cards or GP visit cards which were controversially taken from people with a severe disability or illness in the last three years have already been given back.

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Figures obtained by the Irish Independent show that since the Cabinet climbdown less than two weeks ago, around 4,151 discretionary medical cards and GP visit card holders – who lost the cards between July 2011 to May 31 last – have had the benefit restored by the Health Service Executive (HSE).

The rate at which the cards are being returned to relieved families means that the promise to have all 15,300 restored by mid-July looks like it will be met.

The Government, which was punished at the polls in the last elections over the removal of the cards, caved into pressure to have them returned at a Cabinet meeting nearly a fortnight ago.

The 4,000-plus cardholders are among 15,300 people who have been promised they will get them back. They suffered the disappointment of having the discretionary benefit removed after undergoing a controversial review of their circumstances. A spokeswoman for the HSE said the remaining cases, where individuals lost eligibility during this period, were currently being reviewed by medical officers.

"It is anticipated that this process will be completed in the coming weeks. The HSE will continue to deal with all applications and reviews in a sensitive manner," she added.

Applications for "mercy" discretionary cards – by around 5,000 more people who lost the card and did not co-operate with a HSE review – will have to go before the Director General Tony O'Brien for a decision.

Pressure

It comes as new figures show that by the end of April there were 50,375 people with full discretionary medical cards, compared to 50,505 in January as the unpopular HSE reviews took hold.

The latest performance report from the HSE to the end of April shows another rise in the numbers of adults and children on waiting lists as its finances went €107.5m into the red. There are now 5,302 adult patients who have been waiting for longer than eight months for surgery, while another 22,746 have endured delays of more than a year on the waiting lists for an outpatient appointment to see a specialist.

Waiting times for children have also deteriorated and 930 are on waiting lists for admission to hospital for surgery or a day procedure face a five-week delay. This compares to 662 who were waiting longest in April last year.

At the same time, pressure on emergency departments during the coldest months escalated with another 11,353 attendances. An additional 783 of these emergency patients had to be admitted to a ward compared to the same four months in 2013.

It means that patients on waiting lists suffered. Rates of absenteeism remain at an embarrassing 4.47pc, with nearly 5,000 staff not showing up for work every day.

Hospitals remain in a critical financial state, accounting for €81.2m of the deficit.They are shelling out an additional €20m in hiring agency doctors because of their failure to attract medics to join their staff.

The National Ambulance Service is running nearly €1m under budget despite more than a third of 999 ambulances not responding to calls in the recommended time. The saving is attributable to a minor delay in appointing some service plan posts, said the report.

Irish Independent

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