FAMILY doctors have reported a 7pc drop in the number of medical card holders on their books since the beginning of the year.
The fall-off is being mostly linked to the loss of discretionary cards as well as new income guidelines for the over-70s.
The exact scale of the drop depends on the size of the patient list held by the doctor. But the National Association for General Practitioners, a representative body for family doctors, claimed the drop in cards is only now getting attention at top level because of the pre-election criticism that canvassing backbenchers are facing on the doorsteps.
It follows the plea by another family who lost a medical card for their young son with a rare disease who cannot walk, talk or go to the toilet and needs 24-hour care.
Alexander Coyle (10), who lives in Bray, Co Wicklow, is the first person in Ireland to be diagnosed with Mowat Wilson Syndrome. His parents Annette and Declan highlighted their young son's predicament online and on RTE's 'Saturday Night Show' they spoke of the pressures they face.
Alexander can suffer life-threatening seizures and his parents were told during his recent hospitalisation, when he was admitted to intensive care, that he was in danger of not surviving.
His father Declan said: "The strength of a nation is how they look after their most vulnerable. If this is what the nation has become, it is just appalling."
The family estimates it will cost them in the region of €1,100 a month to provide Alexander with the basics, such as syringes, feeding equipment and nappies. Annette said the card was removed two weeks ago and the HSE letter suggested the family should look at applying for a long-term illness card, which would allow Alexander free medication and medical supplies.
They would still have to pay for GP visits.
"The fact of the matter is there is no more information you can really give them – they have got it all, and yet now we're into more form filling to get it.
"We don't want to be a burden on the State. It has been hugely upsetting for us. The level of care and the expense of it – unless you were a multi- millionaire, really it's just not doable.
"So many people are facing this problem, they are so exhausted by what goes into caring for the child they don't have the energy to appeal after a medical card is revoked."
A spokeswoman for the HSE told the Irish Independent she could not comment on individual cases.
However, she pointed out that medical card applications are considered on the basis of an assessment of an applicant's means, by reference to the national income guidelines.
"It is also important to note that people with certain long-term conditions can register under the Long Term Illness Scheme.
"Under this scheme they are entitled to drugs, medicines, and medical and surgical appliances directly related to the treatment of their condition, free of charge.
It does not depend on their income or other circumstances and is separate from the Medical Card Scheme and the GP visit card scheme," she added.