A hospital is pursuing the family of a child with cancer because of unpaid bills while their application for a medical card is held up, it was claimed yesterday.
The case was highlighted by the Our Children's Health campaign group, which said a substantial number of children with very serious illnesses were being turned down for the benefit. This is despite reform of the medical card system being promised two months ago.
In one case a four-year-old boy in the Midlands has been waiting five months for a medical card.
His family has seen the inpatient bills for his hospital care to treat low immunity and infection mount up.
"They believed they would receive a medical card soon and do not have the money to pay.
"The bills are now overdue and the family is being pursued by a third-party debt-collection agency on behalf of the HSE as they enter the most difficult part of their son's treatment," said campaign spokesman Peter Fitzpatrick.
He said the application was being held up by inquiries about a bog the father cuts turf on. "They do not own the bog and are struggling to get by."
The group said it was aware of four more children fighting cancer who were refused a medical card over the last two weeks.
Family income continues to be part of the assessment criteria for a medical card while a panel analyses the extent an illness causes "financial hardship".
The criteria was due to be eased with the establishment of a clinical advisory group which would look at the applicant's wider medical need.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar yesterday said he rejected accusations that improvements had not been made to the medical card system .
He pointed to the 76,000 people who now have discretionary cards, up from 50,294 in June.
There was much more liaison with local health offices, he added.
"However, it is still a work in progress," he admitted. In some cases cards will be refused.
The HSE will announce the membership of the Clinical Advisory Group today.
It will have three months to develop wider guidance on assessing applications where the patient has a significant medical condition.
It has been difficult to get people to sit on the group because of the challenge involved, he added.