HSE chief is forced to apologise over letter to swine flu jab victims
THE Health Service Executive (HSE) has admitted that a highly distressing letter it sent to families coping with their child's incurable sleeping disease should have been shown in advance to director general Tony O'Brien.
It comes as health chiefs made a U-turn over a letter sent last month, which told around 60 families -- whose children developed narcolepsy after getting the swine flu vaccine -- that medical expenses would no longer be reimbursed.
The letter said the cancellation of the payments was being made on the instructions of the State Claims Agency (SCA) because the families were taking legal action.
However, the SCA said last night that it "did NOT advise the HSE of any requirement to alter its approach to the awarding of items like medical cards or the provision of other normal health benefits and supports allowed to the relevant individuals in the past".
HSE chief Tony O' Brien only learnt about the letter while listening to 'Morning Ireland' on RTE radio yesterday morning and immediately called for the expenses to be reinstated.
The upset families were due to go to the High Court today to ask for a judicial review to have the expenses scheme re-instated, saying its withdrawal would leave them thousands of euro out of pocket.
Mairead Lawless, who is in the support group SOUND, said the instructions by the State Claims Agency were repeated at a meeting with the chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan and other senior officials a few days after the letter was received.
"The letter was written by Greg Price, the HSE's director of advocacy and the instructions were repeated by the chief medical officer and the others who were present," she said.
She said the expenses related to services such as physiotherapy which the children, who can suffer a sudden sleep attack, need.
The HSE did not withdraw their discretionary medical card but parents feared this was under threat also.
A spokesman for the HSE said yesterday that Mr O'Brien did not see every piece of correspondence issued to patients on behalf of the HSE. Senior staff bring issues to the attention of the director general when they feel it is appropriate.
Mr O'Brien has "given a direction that medical supports and services will not be withdrawn for this category of narcolepsy sufferers".
"He wishes to apologise if the letter issued has caused any distress or upset to any person, family or group," the spokesman said.
The Department of Health said that in conjunction with the HSE "it continues to provide a wide range of services and supports to those diagnosed with narcolepsy following pandemic vaccination to meet their health needs".
However, it declined to say why it would leave these families under financial pressure to provide for the obvious medical needs of their children.
The Department of Health had urged families to have their children vaccinated with the swine flu vaccine during the swine flu pandemic.
The State Claims Agency said it was normal practice that the issue of ongoing or future out-of-pocket expenses of litigants, arising from the action on which the litigation is based, forms part of the broader assessment of damages at the conclusion of the action whether at trial or where a settlement has been agreed.
It said it did not advise the HSE of any requirement to alter its approach to the awarding of items like medical cards or the provision of other normal health benefits and supports allowed to the relevant individuals in the past.