Wednesday 22 November 2017

HSE to cut back free travel for dialysis and cancer patients

Eilish O'Regan and Brian McDonald

THE HSE is to cut back on free transport for patients who have to travel to receive kidney dialysis and cancer treatment.

Thousands of patients could be affected by the cuts from next month as the HSE targets up to €10m in savings from the €36m bill for taxis and buses.

Patients in the west and southeast must pass new eligibility checks -- the same checks already apply in other areas -- covering financial and medical circumstances before they are provided with free transport to hospital.

The move was yesterday unveiled by the HSE, which is to introduce national rules covering the free transport for the first time.

Senior HSE executive Brian Gilroy said said there is a need to prioritise funding for those most in need.

Patients with a medical card will not automatically qualify for free transport but those who are currently receiving transport will not have it withdrawn until their treatment is finished.

Even if a doctor recommends a patient should get transport, they will not automatically receive it, he added.

He said he did not believe patients were abusing the service but said people who can make their own way to hospital should do so to release funds for other services.

It recently emerged that in HSE West the transport budget for patients is almost double its budgeted amount for the first five months of this year.

While the budget had remained static, the numbers of people availing of it had increased. There are currently 456 dialysis patients and 125 cancer patients availing of the service.

Commenting on the proposed changes, Pat O'Brien, Secretary of the Limerick branch of the Irish Kidney Association, said he was concerned about the serious impact of any cutbacks in transport services to people travelling to receive life-saving dialysis treatment.

Mr O'Brien pointed out that dialysis services had been provided in Limerick for the last 30 years and the vast majority of people availing of the facility were elderly.

A dedicated facility based at the Dock Road in Limerick provides kidney dialysis for patients drawn from across the Midwest region.


Mr O'Brien said: "Dialysis patients from all areas travel here by taxi and by minibus to receive their treatment. For years they have been travelling in this way because it is simply not possible to drive, given their condition.

"In the event of cutbacks to the service, you would be very worried that they wouldn't turn up for their treatment. If the HSE is changing things, then they will have to put something in place."

Mr O'Brien said he believed the HSE was not making the most of its existing resources when it came to the transport of patients for such services.

"There are some very wasteful practices there that should be addressed -- it's in everyone's interest," he added.

Irish Independent

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