THE Irish Cancer Society (ICS) is calling on the HSE to ensure that all cancer patients undergoing treatment are issued medical cards without delay after a surge in applications to the organisation for financial assistance in recent months.
The charity says that it recorded a 12pc rise in financial aid applications in the first quarter of this year, in comparison to the same period in 2013, with many people being forced to reapply for a card even as they are dying from a terminal illness.
The ICS said that in comparison to 2012, there was also a 5pc increase in applications for assistance throughout 2013 and that 18pc of all enquiries made to the Daffodil Centres throughout that year were in relation to financial issues.
A spokesperson for the ICS – which distributed €1m in aid to patients and their families throughout last year – said that it has now requested an "urgent meeting" with the HSE.
"From our National Centre Helpline, and through our Daffodil Centres, we are hearing from many cancer patients who are losing their discretionary medical card after a review or who are being refused in the first instance," Kathleen O'Meara, head of advocacy and communications with the organisation, explained.
She said the ICS has found that it is "increasingly difficult for cancer patients to get a discretionary medical card" and called on the Government to eliminate delays in awarding the cards.
"The Government is consistently denying that there is a policy to cut discretionary medical cards, but what we are hearing from patients paints a different picture," she said.
It is understood that the number of discretionary medical cards has fallen by 47,000 since March 2011, and that since late last year there are 65,000 fewer medical cards.
Ms O'Meara said that the ICS is also "deeply concerned" about other problems that seriously ill patients are faced with within the discretionary medical card system, and that some have to be signed off by their doctor as having a terminal diagnosis in order to qualify for a card.
The ICS said that it has also come across a number of terminally ill patients who were granted temporary medical cards, which expired within the final weeks and months of their lives, forcing them to reapply.
Ms O'Meara said that such patients are caused unnecessary "distress and uncertainty".
There has been widespread public outrage in recent weeks over the medical card fiasco, as people with serious long-term conditions are being told they will no longer have medical cards to pay for vital treatments and medicine.