HSE apologises for 'distress caused' by medical card withdrawal for narcolepsy
The HSE has apologised this evening after two women threatened to sue the health service for allegedly contracting narcolepsy following a swine flue vaccine.
The High Court was told the HSE had said a letter stating it would not reimburse medical expenses where legal action had been initiated over the use of flu vaccine Pandemrix was not authorised by the Director General and is to be set aside and supports immediately reinstated.
Some 60 families claim to be affected by the swine flu injection of 2009.
Aoife Bennett, Lakelands, Naas, Co Kildare and Samantha Atkinson of St Brendan's Terrace, Tibradden, Rathfarnham, had sought leave to seek an order quashing a decision of the HSE to withdraw a reimbursement support service relating to the treatments and relief of post vaccination narcolepsy and its associated effects.
Earlier, Mr Cush said the women suffer from narcolepsy, a severe form of sleep deprivation, and had received the swine flu vaccination in school in 2009.
He said a letter of November 20 last from the HSE purported to withdraw the supports to those who had initiated proceedings arising from receiving the vaccine.
The letter stated the HSE would no longer reimburse medical expenses where individuals sue the State. The letter was from the HSE's Advocacy Unit and said the decision was based on advice of the State Claims Agency.
The HSE today issued a statement stating there was a miscommunication with the letter.
"In writing to suffers of narcolepsy, it was never the intention of the HSE to withdraw any discretionary medical cards or any other health services or supports," the statement began.
"The letter that issued by the HSE never stated that the State Claims Agency advised the HSE of any requirement to alter its approach in this regard.
"The interpretation of the letter by some media may have given an impression that the HSE had Tntended to withdraw such medical support."
HSE Director General Tony O'Brien stated that he wanted to "make it absolutely clear" that the service has been instructed that "medical supports and services will not be withdrawn for this category of narcolepsy sufferers".
Mr O'Brien also apologised for an "distress of upset" that the letter may have caused.
Mary Fitzpatrick, spokesperson for people suffering from the sleeping disorder, Sufferers of Unique Narcolepsy Disorder, said six families were involved in the medical expenses situation and the organisation expected the HSE to reinstate their expenses and reimburse the families by the end of the week.
In court, Mr Justice Michael Peart was told by counsel for the two women that a letter received at lunch time appeared to confirm the reinstatement of all entitlements.
Michael Cush SC said, if that transpired to be the situation, leave to seek judicial review concerning withdrawal of expenses would not be required. The matter would be followed up in correspondence to "gain exactitude", counsel said.
Mr Justice Peart gave counsel liberty to re-enter the matter if necessary.
The vaccine Pandemrix was made by pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline and was fast-tracked for use due to the human swine flu crisis. The State gave the makers of it an indemnity.
The State has provided those affected with narcolepsy symptoms with discretionary medical cards and also covers the cost of scans and private consultant visits.