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Rush for medical cards as crisis bites

THE economic downturn saw the HSE issuing thousands more medical cards than it had originally anticipated for 2009.

Over 1.4m people had medical cards by the end of October, according to the latest statistics.

This represented a growth of more than 12,000 within the month. This exceeded the HSE's forecast total for 2009 by more than 37,000 cards, with two months still to go before the end of the year.

Meanwhile, the number of discretionary cards was up 5.9pc during the period, when compared to the first 10 months in 2008.

The latest HSE figures also revealed that during October, there were 85,355 to the GP out-of-hours service .

This was an increase of 2pc on calls made in October 2008, mainly due to the swine flu pandemic, according to the Irish Medical News.

Meanwhile, the HSE's vaccine clinics are set to re-open after the Christmas break on January 4.

A spokesperson said the HSE will continue to focus on offering the swine flu vaccine to the at-risk groups; under-fives, schools, parents and anyone living with a child aged under six months to protect the baby.

"The HSE has issued letters to the parents of children under five inviting them to bring their children to a mass vaccination clinic and we would urge all parents to take up this offer.

"We want to make sure that we protect as many children as possible from the effects of the flu and a vaccine programme is now being rolled out in schools, and this programme will resume after the school holidays."