Parents tell of tough fight on behalf of their sick children
Last May, thousands of voters took their revenge on the Government, and its decision to revoke thousands of medical cards, at the polls in the local elections.
Scores of brave families with young children living with life-threatening and serious conditions went public about their battle to secure a medical card for their children. Almost a year on since the crisis reached boiling point, the Irish Independent has spoken to some of the families who were forced to fight for their children.
‘We have never been more determined’
The father of a young girl who had leukaemia fought for two years to secure a medical card for her.
Kevin Shortall described the relief he and his wife Tracey felt when their daughter Louise was eventually issued a medical card last year. She had been issued a number of temporary cards prior to that, meaning her parents had to repeat the application process several times. The Dublin girl was diagnosed with cancer in 2012, but is now in full remission.
“When you don’t have a medical card, you think you are being victimised or you are the only one or there is something wrong with you. It is a terribly personal feeling when you don’t get a medical card,” Kevin said.
“When a parent fails the means test, they feel like they have failed their child. And that is absolutely true.”
Kevin, along with his brother-in-law Peter Fitzpatrick, set up the ‘Our Children’s Health’ campaign last year. They are campaigning for children to be issued medical cards for the duration of their illness.
“At the moment, the means test is still there. So even though the Government can say that everyone gets the medical card eventually, it is still torture for parents for about six or seven months. Louise has it for one more year after this, which is good. Because when you get it, you get it. But they just put you through such a rigmarole to get it.
“All medical cards should be appropriate to the length of the treatment. It’s just an accident that we got it and it was appropriate to the length of the treatment.”
The campaign, which was launched last May, has secured more than 65,000 signatures on their online petition.
Referring to the campaign, Kevin said: “We have never been more determined to see this through.”
‘The card gives us peace of mind for Katie’
Katie Connolly lives with asthma, juvenile arthritis and a heart condition, but she had her medical card taken away from her.
The six-year-old girl’s card was eventually reinstated last year, only after a year-long battle that was fought by her parents.
The “bubbly” little girl lives with her parents in Douglas, Co Cork, and her mother Jackie said it was “absolutely essential” that her card was given back.
“You have to be very careful with Katie, because with the medication she is on, it is a huge balancing act.
“If she gets sick at all, you have to bring her to the doctor straight away, because if she has an infection she has to get an antibiotic. She has had a lot of infections since Christmas.”
Katie was first granted a card shortly after birth but lost it in 2013. Jackie said her new card was valid for three years, which meant she could now focus on her child.
“For me, that is what it is all about, peace of mind to bring my daughter to the doctor when she needs to go to the doctor.
“Katie is quite ill. It is quite complicated so we really needed the card,” she added.
However, Jackie believes the “situation is not fixed” and that many families are still unable to get much-needed medical cards.
“There are people out there still who aren’t getting medical cards. I have heard of one or two who are just over the threshold and they are not getting them. So it is not fixed,” she said.
Emma Jane Hade
'When our son got his card, it was like winning the Lotto'
"When we got the medical card, it was like winning the Lotto," said mother-of-two Nichola Gilmartin.
The 33-year-old was engaged in an almost two-year battle with the HSE to secure a medical card for her baby son Ryan, who was born in September 2013. The little boy was born with Down Syndrome, has a hole in his heart and lives with a number of other serious respiratory conditions. He requires physiotherapy, and is prone to developing pneumonia and chest infections, but his application for a medical card was refused four times.
Ryan, who lives with his family in Co Mayo, was eventually granted the medical card in February.
"One evening at 6pm, I had a missed call from a Dublin number. I called them back and they told me that Ryan was awarded a medical card.
"I didn't believe him. Because I had been promised before that we were heading in the right direction," Nichola told the Irish Independent.
"It has made a massive difference for Ryan, it wasn't just the doctor, the hospital and his medication. It covers his physiotherapy equipment. Beforehand, you would have had to fight tooth-and-nail for it."
She said her son was now developing in "leaps and bounds" and had recently begun crawling.