Tuesday 16 January 2018

Patients who lose medical cards face lengthy waits for care

Health Minister James Reilly is coming under increasing pressure
Health Minister James Reilly is coming under increasing pressure

Eilish O'Regan and Eoghan MacConnell

People who lose their medical card face long waiting lists, as they will not be allowed 'queue jump' for packages of care.

The HSE has outlined a series of measures which are planned to help those – many with profound disabilities and serious illnesses – who have had their cards removed. Between 2,000 and 4,000 people will get this one-on-one advice.

But health service bosses said access to therapy services and other supports will be decided "strictly" on need, with "priority going to patients with the greatest needs".

These services can include speech and language or occupational therapy – for which there are long waiting lists across the country.

The majority of people who lose a discretionary card will not have them restored, unless their appeal is successful.

But instead of just getting a letter in the post, they will now be personally contacted by a HSE official, who will assess their needs and provide guidance on accessing existing services.

The move follows the controversy over the removal of around 30,000 of these 'discretionary' cards in recent years.

Backbench TDs are enduring angry pre-election voters' backlash on the doorsteps over the issue.

The Health Minister is coming under increasing pressure from Fine Gael TDs to change the guidelines around discretionary medical cards.

Dr Reilly said yesterday that he had to balance his "responsibility to the taxpayer" with his duty to those in need of care.

"What the HSE are doing at the moment is looking at various methodologies to make sure that happens," he added.

"I'd like to dispel any myths. There were 650,000 medical cards reviewed last year – 13pc of them weren't renewed, but only 2.5pc were refused.

"The others were people who passed away, or who have moved on or moved out of the State," he said.

He said since the issuing of cards was taken away from local health offices and centralised in Dublin, there had been a "bit of a disconnect".

"It would appear that people were getting a refusal on their medical card and then no advice on how else to get service. That's going to be rectified and (up to) 4,000 families should benefit from that.

"There is no doubt for the people affected, it has been hugely distressing, and I want to avoid that. I believe that compassion should be in the system at all times and I strongly believe that."

However, Fianna Fail spokesman on health, Billy Kelleher, said the discretional medical card was essential for people with serious illness, with such treatments sometimes causing "major financial hardship".

Irish Independent

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