PARENTS of seriously ill children have launched a national campaign to protect their medical cards.
Dublin man Peter Fitzpatrick was inspired to launch the 'Our Children's Health' campaign after witnessing the struggle facing his brother-in-law Kevin Shortall and wife Tracey in trying to secure a long-term medical card for their cancer- stricken daughter Louise.
He said: "The simple fact is, no matter how ill, no matter how severe a condition your child has, there is no legal entitlement to a medical card in Ireland unless your circumstances meet the terms of a crude, outdated means test.
"Failing that, the success or otherwise of your application relies on the discretion of the HSE. Our goal is to change that."
Louise (8) was only recently issued a year-long medical card, despite being diagnosed with leukaemia in 2012.
Meanwhile, Dubliner Mark Fitzpatrick said he was refused a medical card for his son Eric after being told he earns €70 a week too much to qualify.
His 10-month-old baby was offered a GP visit card instead, but Mr Fitzpatrick insists that by his calculations, Eric should get a medical card.
The Donaghmede man believes that a GP visit card will not be sufficient in assisting his young son's medical needs.
"Eric got a diagnosis at 10 weeks old. It's a rare form of epilepsy that will cause very weak muscle tone, so chances are he will never walk or talk.
"He needs 24-hour care, so his mother Wendy had to give up work," he said.
Separately, Dianna Ross said that she would fully support this campaign, as her seven-year-old son Ben Pretorius was told last year that his medical card was up for renewal and would expire this February.
Ben, who has been seriously ill since birth, was only last week diagnosed as suffering from a rare form of epilepsy.
"He needs 24-hour care," she said. "He can't walk, can't talk, and he can't feed himself. He depends on us for everything."
She quit work to become his full-time carer, and described her battle to secure her son a medical card as "a nightmare".
"He was diagnosed with epilepsy first when he was a baby. They gave us a long-term illness card until he was three.
"When he was five, they sent out the forms for renewal.
"I sent them back, and they refused me. I was sent a GP- visit card in the post.
"I appealed that, and said I wanted the medical card so I got one. So now it is up for renewal again." She is still waiting for an answer six weeks later.
Newly appointed Children's Minister Charlie Flanagan said: "There are some difficult cases out there, I would hope that everybody who needs a medical card in this country would have one," he said.