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There is more work to do on medical cards issue


Health Minister Leo Varadkar issued a 10-point plan to reform the medical card system in late November

Health Minister Leo Varadkar issued a 10-point plan to reform the medical card system in late November

Health Minister Leo Varadkar issued a 10-point plan to reform the medical card system in late November

The controversy over discretionary medical cards and the distress caused by their removal from so many people was one of the major sources of criticism of the Government in 2014.

The eventual decision in early summer to stop reviews of existing discretionary medical card holders and give cards back to thousands of people who had lost them quelled some of the uproar. This was followed by Health Minister Leo Varadkar’s 10-point plan to reform the medical card system in late November.

As we report today, the numbers with discretionary medical cards have risen from 52,232 in June to 74,674 in December 2014. But not all the promises have materialised.

One of the key November proposals was to provide applicants with one application form, which would cover a medical card, GP visit card, the Long Term Illness Scheme and the Drugs Payment Scheme. It meant less red tape and the applicant was less likely to lose out on a benefit they were entitled to. Now the Health Service Executive (HSE) says this is unlikely to be ready until 2016. It involves a detailed body of work.

We have also still to see the promised clinical advisory group, which will be crucial to expanding the view of what is financial hardship and medical need for those who apply for a discretionary card.

What is clear from the figures is that a more charitable view is being taken of those seeking a discretionary medical card. The number of discretionary GP cards had also risen from 31,565 in June to 33,672 in December.

However, major difficulties remain for some vulnerable groups. The Our Children’s Health campaign, which is made up of families looking for a fairer scheme for children with serious illness, has again written to Mr Varadkar.

It points out that while there are reports of a more flexible approach, some children with very serious conditions continue to be turned down for a card. It also takes issue with a mandatory means test for everyone, in particular when it is applied to children with a life-limiting condition.

Once a diagnosis is made in the case of a child, the assessment should be made on medical need, they argue.

The Health Minister already promised that he will continue to monitor how his plan is working this year, and he must live up to this pledge.


Ireland is not immune to outside threats

Though the momentous events of last week may seem distant to many, even though they were happening live on our television screens, this is no time for complacency.

As a hub for American multinationals, Ireland could be a target for extremists who want to continue to feed off the publicity engendered by the tragic events in both Paris and the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East.

Yesterday, the computer giant Intel confirmed that gardai believed there was what it described as a "credible threat" to its giant computer facility in Leixlip, Co Kildare. There are many other high-tech multinationals operating in this country, employing hundreds of thousands of people. So it is a matter of national security that such high-profile targets are protected.

While the Foreign Affairs Minister has promised new legislation to deal with this ominous threat, it would seem that after 30 years of our own 'Troubles', there is enough legislation in place to contain any threat.

What is needed more than anything else is vigilance, at all levels, from officials, the gardai and ordinary citizens.

Irish Independent