Tuesday 20 March 2018

I support Lucy: she should have a medical card

Give care to those who actually need it rather than on the arbitrary basis of age

CAMPAIGN: Lucy O’Connor, 9, who has cancer, with her mother Angela. Lucy has been refused a medical car by the HSE. Photo: Tony Gavin
CAMPAIGN: Lucy O’Connor, 9, who has cancer, with her mother Angela. Lucy has been refused a medical car by the HSE. Photo: Tony Gavin
Dr Ciara Kelly

Dr Ciara Kelly

There are very occasional times when I don't like being a doctor. When I don't like being involved in the health service or working for the HSE. This is one of those times. That is because it isn't a service that actually seems to care about real people. It seems to care more about bureaucracy and political policy.

What sparked this invective is the case of nine-year-old Lucy from Kildare, who was diagnosed with lymphoma last September and is currently undergoing chemotherapy and other treatment in Crumlin hospital at the moment. She should be enjoying playing with her pals in third class, but instead she is travelling up and down to hospital for repeated painful injections and medicines that make her pale and sick, and caused all her lovely hair to fall out. She is going through what no young child should ever have to go through and is doing so with great spirit.

Her parents are going through every parents' worst nightmare. There's simply nothing worse than seeing your child sick and not being able to spare them that suffering. You would do literally anything to save them from it. Her mum Angela O'Connor, who is clearly struggling with Lucy's condition, went public on her case a few weeks ago when the HSE turned Lucy down for a medical card. Angela appealed the decision but she has, unbelievably, been turned down again.

That's what kills me. We can't prevent children from getting cancer, however much we may want to, but surely when they do, we should do everything in our power to care for them? Why else have a health service?

The yearly capitation rate the HSE would have to pay to a GP for a medical card for a nine-year-old girl is €43.79. That's it. That's what it would cost them. €43.79 per year. It costs so little but it means so much. Because with a medical card, you're entitled to access all sorts of services that you're unable to access without one.

So medical card patients, apart from free visits and drugs, can access community physio, counselling, or occupational therapy for example. They are also entitled to equipment such as wheelchairs, walking aids or grants to alter their homes if needs be. Basically, they are entitled to publicly use all aspects of our health service that non-medical card patients aren't. This, by the way, doesn't really cost the HSE anything extra, because these paramedical staff are already there, already being paid a salary, the equipment is already there, bought from an existing budget - it simply allows someone to access the services.

Cases like Lucy's are what really expose the nonsense of the free medical card for the under-6s policy. My healthy, well, five-year-old will get a medical card. Will be entitled to all sorts of services that I sincerely hope he will never need. And a nine-year-old girl with cancer, lying nauseated in a hospital bed is denied one. Personally, I find that sickening. That is putting political need ahead of medical need. That is simply wrong.

Lucy's mum hasn't worked since they got the diagnosis. Caring for a child with cancer is - as any parent unlucky enough to find themselves in that position will tell you - a full-time job. Unfortunately, it's a job that costs you money, rather than pays you.

Giving this little girl a medical card would cost hardly anything. But crucially it would help her access vital services and it would spare her parents some of the huge expense associated with having a critically ill child. Transports, drugs, and doctors' visits all add up - and that's apart from being unable to continue to work to earn money to pay for them. Even more important, it might give the family one less thing to worry about, and make them think that somebody actually cared about what they are going through. Shame on you HSE.


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