Sunday 28 December 2014

Cancer survivor's medical card 'taken out of blue'

Published 08/06/2014 | 02:30

Minister for Health James Reilly
Minister for Health James Reilly

A CARPENTER who had a bone marrow transplant and aggressive chemotherapy treatment for a rare cancer nearly 22 years ago that left a legacy of side effects, was among those whose medical card was withdrawn out of the blue.

Now James Mullen, 59, is among tens of thousands hoping they will get their medical card back after the Government's U-turn forced by their humiliation at the ballot box in last month's local and European elections.

In 1993, James, from Clifden, Co Galway, underwent a bone marrow transplant that saved his life.

Back then, the chemotherapy regime that accompanied his successful cancer treatment was extremely aggressive – unlike the carefully targeted therapy available today.

It left James with a legacy of medical issues. At one stage he was on 22 tablets a day to treat blood pressure, stomach problems and other side-effects of his cancer treatment.

He told the Sunday Independent: "It's a small price to pay. I'm glad to be rid of the cancer. Without the bone marrow transplant and the treatments I was told in 1993 that I would be dead within five years."

Since then James has had a discretionary medical card – until about eight weeks ago.

He received no official notification. He found out that his medical card had been withdrawn by the HSE when he went to his pharmacist to pick up his prescription.

"I had to pay €140 for my medicines," James added.

It is a large monthly bill the married father of four can ill afford.

"I rang the HSE and was talking to someone in there. I told them I was a cancer patient on twice yearly check-ups in Galway and Dublin. The chap said to me that back in the Nineties it was easy to give out medical cards because cancer patients didn't live that long, but that has changed now," James said. He has still not got his medical card back and has written to the HSE stating his case.

"They did send me a GP visit card to replace the medical card but that is not worth anything to me, I never go near a GP," he said. "If I have a problem I have to see the specialist in hospital. What I need is help meeting the bill for medicines and drugs."

The Irish Cancer Society (ICS) and other groups representing patients who had medical cards withdrawn in the latest health fiasco have been promised by Minister James Reilly that the mess will be sorted out before the Dail rises for Summer.

An emotional Dr Reilly was joined by Junior Minister Alex White for meetings with a number of groups on Friday, including Down Syndrome Ireland, the Jack & Jill Foundation, ICS and the Irish Motor Neurone Disease Association.

The Our Children's Health group, which has been campaigning for the return of cards and also met the Minister said: "We would like to acknowledge Minister Reilly's sincerity and commitment to expedite the introduction of the new framework while also moving quickly to deal with those that have lost their medical cards."

The group said the minister had "committed to identify and reinstate medical cards for all those affected" and added that this would be undertaken by the time the Dail breaks for the summer recess on July 17.

A spokesman for the group said Dr Reilly became "quite emotional" as he spoke to them.

A Department of Health spokesman said: "On the issue of those persons who lost a discretionary medical card through the review process, the groups were advised that the goal of the Government is to resolve that issue before the summer."

It has now emerged that both Dr Reilly and the HSE furiously opposed the "medical cards probity" savings of €113m in 2014 advocated by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

Eventually, after that battle, the savings sought under the heading "Medical Card Probity" were reduced to €23m and approved by cabinet.

On Wednesday, Dr Reilly apologised to his Fine Gael colleagues for the way the medical card issue had been handled, but appeared to cast some blame on cabinet colleagues for forcing unrealistic savings on his department.

Sunday Independent

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