Fury over Howlin’s medical card remark

Brendan Howlin: has enraged parents

Families of children with Down’s syndrome have expressed anger at the Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin, who questioned if they should be entitled to medical cards if they are “very wealthy”.

The mother of one girl who will lose her discretionary medical card this week said his comments did not make sense given that the Coalition has announced it will provide free GP visit cards to all children under six — regardless of their wealth.

Mr Howlin was asked on RTÉ Radio about whether the Government considered focusing resources at the most vulnerable, such as children with Down’s syndrome, rather than providing free doctor care to all children under six.

He replied that it was “not as simple as that” saying: “If the person with Down’s syndrome is in a family that is extremely wealthy, should they get a medical card?”

Jackie Connolly, whose daughter Katie will turn six in February, organised a protest in Cork at the weekend, attended by around 40 other children with Down’s syndrome who have lost their discretionary medical cards in recent months.

“There was nobody there that is extremely wealthy,” she said. “This is just another smokescreen by the minister.”

She said she was “very angry” with his remarks, because they showed a different standard for children with disabilities and others: “What about the children under six who are not being means tested, it doesn’t matter if they are rich or poor, they will get it regardless. But it’s people with disabilities who actually need it.”

Noreen Keane from Limerick, whose son Ronan, 8, lost the medical card he had since birth, said that in his comments about wealthy parents “there is a different standard he is applying to children with Down’s syndrome, and all the other children under six who will be getting a free GP visit card — just because that is a vote-catcher”.

She said: “They are talking about fairness, but what is fair about the way they are treating children with Down’s syndrome?”

Family doctors have also criticised the “callousness” of the Government’s approach to medical cards and asked the Coalition to “reassess” its priorities in the provision of free healthcare to children. Around 150 GPs from the Irish Medical Organisation met at the weekend and issued a statement saying the current approach to healthcare is “politics-led” rather than based on health needs.

Chairman Dr Ray Walley said plans announced in the budget to provide free GP care to children under six “cannot be justified” while at the same time “withdrawing medical cards from patients who are utterly dependent on them”.

He said: “This is a question of priorities, and in health we have to focus scarce resources on those who need our help most.”


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