Friday 31 October 2014

Six-month card renewal rule is blasted 'inhuman'

Published 05/08/2014 | 02:30

Sharon Foley, chief executive of the Irish Hospice Foundation.
Sharon Foley, chief executive of the Irish Hospice Foundation.

Current rules that force people who are dying to renew their medical card every six months are inhuman and need to be changed, a report has warned.

The terminally ill should be granted a card for a year or have it automatically renewed, based on a covering letter from their GP or consultant. The is a call that was made in a report on End of Life and Palliative Care in Ireland from the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children.

The report quoted consultant in palliative care, Dr Paul Cregan, who said: "If we feel a person will die within six months, then he or she will qualify for the service. However, we are not going to get it right every time.

"Based on unpublished research, we believe that, approximately 20pc of the time, the six month period will be over-run. We are currently running over by one or two months. To ask a person within a month or two of dying to reapply for a medical card on a means test, rather than discretionary basis, is inhuman."

According to the report, many are not able to access sufficient carer support when a person is deteriorating or dying. There is an unavailability of equipment in the community for those who are terminally ill, and arguably, this represents a fundamental breakdown in care provision.

Committee chairman, Jerry Buttimer, said: "During October and November 2013, we met groups,including those involved in delivering end of life and palliative care in hospices, hospitals, nursing homes and in the community. A public consultation process was also run, which resulted in a large number of submissions being received.

"Evidence presented to the Joint Committee at its hearings on this issue suggests that significant deficiencies exist in the provision of end of life and palliative care in Ireland, in particular, inequalities based solely on geographic location."

The committee recommended the development of a National Strategy on Palliative Care, End of Life and Bereavement for the health sector.

It was also recommended that the Government be asked to address the regional disparities which exist in the provision and funding of specialist palliative care services in Ireland.

As many as 2,500 patients have no access to in-patient hospice care in their area as they don't exist.

The Irish Hospice Foundation (IHF) welcomed the report. Sharon Foley, chief executive of the IHF, said she hoped the Government will act on these recommendations. "We have three regions in Ireland with no in-patient hospice units - the north east, the midlands and the south east, as well as Kerry, Wicklow and Mayo.

"Citizens are living and dying with an inequitable system. We have approximately 150 hospice beds today but we should have 450."

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