Varadkar agrees to divert extra €30m to medical cards
Health Minister Leo Varadkar has agreed to divert another €30m towards the provision of medical cards in 2016.
It was originally projected there would be 125,000 fewer medical cards in 2016 as more people are gaining employment and improving their income.
But this figure has now been revised down to 50,000.
The decision to move €30m towards medical card provision followed a Cabinet discussion on the HSE's 2016 service plan, setting out how it will spend €13.1bn.
The funds were diverted from allocations to the State Claims Agency for compensation.
A spokesman for the minister said he shared concerns about the size of the original figure, which other ministers said was not "credible".
Ministers feared it looked like a plan to reduce numbers, which was not the case as there will be no cuts next year.
The natural fall in cards this year was 36,000.
"Cabinet was informed emphatically that the rules and income thresholds around eligibility to medical cards, which have been relaxed already, will not be changed," a spokesperson for the minister said.
"Cabinet was also told there will be no review or probity exercise like the one which occurred in 2014."
There is also a projected increase in the number of GP visit cards of 50,000 in 2016, not counting Government plans to increase free GP visits to children under 12. The plan, published today, sees €9.3m for improvements in maternity units.
They include the appointment of Directors of Midwifery in all units, and the creation of bereavement specialist teams.
There will also be monthly safety statements from all units. More midwives will be hired and there will be better access to screening scans in pregnancy.
It will progress maternity service developments in South Tipperary General Hospital as recommended.
It is also planned to implement Phase One of the Maternal & Newborn Clinical Management System at Kerry General Hospital, Cork University Hospital, National Maternity Hospital and Rotunda Hospital.
It allocates €7.4m to the National Ambulance Service.
As a result of the move to a single, state-of-the-art national ambulance control centre in Tallaght in 2015, response times for ambulances will be improved.
Some 62 new and replacement ambulances will be purchased in 2016, according to the plan.