Lise Hand

Friday 25 July 2014

No amount of Enda's sticking plasters will stop this bleeding

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Published 19/06/2014|02:30

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Health Minister James Reilly. Photo: Mark Condren
Health Minister James Reilly. Photo: Mark Condren

MICHEAL Martin was pursuing the Taoiseach with the tenacity of a dog chasing a speeding car. "Incoherent and inconsistent. A shambles," he blasted.

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And the Fianna Fail leader wasn't wrong. It doesn't matter if Enda Kenny gets the biggest, stickiest plaster in the world and carefully places it across the serious wound caused by the removal of discretionary medical cards from vulnerable families – it's an injury which won't be healing quickly any time soon.

Granted, the Cabinet waved its magic wand this week and tried to make the whole nightmare go away. It was a feat of wishful thinking akin to Bobby Ewing emerging from the shower and everyone discovering that the car crash had all been a horrible dream.

But the Government won't be able to rewrite the script of this particularly unpleasant drama with such ease, even though it has announced that 15,000 medical cards which had been withdrawn following a review will now be reinstated.

While the U-turn has been broadly welcomed, so much damage has been done which won't be easily remedied. The image of the Coalition as an uncaring entity which has either lost touch with – or worse still, is impervious to – the suffering of the citizenry is in danger of becoming a fixed picture.

Families have been left exhausted and enraged after a protracted battle to have their cards restored. And (if possible) the Health Minister's tattered reputation has acquired a few new holes.

In fact, some of the less hard-hearted folk along the corridors of Leinster House have begun to feel a bit sorry for the beleaguered James Reilly, who is beginning to resemble the unfortunate King Kong clinging on to the top of a tall building as incoming missiles whizz towards his hapless head. After all, many of the shambolic situations in the health service are as a result of collective cabinet decisions and not simply solo runs by a single minister.

But it was the Taoiseach who was in the hot seat during Leaders' Questions.

"Over 30,000 people lost their medical cards, according to the Government's statistics. Only 15,000 are getting them back. Some were paralysed with fear and shock and were not in any position to respond to the infamous letters sent out over the past two-and-a- half years," Micheal told him.

He also wanted to know if those 15,000 who are having their cards reinstated will get a refund and also what would now happen to applicants who are newly diagnosed with serious illness or multiple disabilities.

However, the Taoiseach was standing by the move. "The decision is clear," he stated.

"Some €13m is being made available to restore the medical cards that were taken away following the review of cards allocated on a discretionary basis," he said, adding that the HSE "is working flat out to make sure all of those people get their medical cards back inside the next four weeks".

Nor was Sinn Fein's Caoimhghin O Caolain minded to ease up on the grilling. The new procedures were no more than a "smokescreen", he charged.

And he too wished to know if compensation would be provided.

Enda was beginning to look a little frayed around the edges. "The minister has already dealt with the question of compensation," he dodged.

"He hasn't," protested several voices.

Once again the Taoiseach tried to explain why the decision had been taken by his Government to execute an embarrassing but inevitable volte-face.

"This decision was made after listening to stories of the pressure that is on so many people," he declared. "I admit that obviously these things should not have happened, with the pressure and the strain they put on many families," he added by way of yet another apology.

But a beady-eyed electorate has taken note that this reversal was given the green light in the aftermath of the local election results, which badly shook the Coalition.

And now James Reilly is doing a King Kong, while Enda wriggles like a helpless Fay Wray in his grasp, unable to break free from the chaos.

Ominously, with so many hospital passes being flung at the Coalition, which has been staggering from one fine mess to another since the start of this year, there's a feeling that – just like the doomed gorilla – not everybody is going to escape unscathed from this sorry episode.

Lise Hand

Irish Independent

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