Non-terminal cancer patients may lose medical cards

Non-terminal cancer patients are no longer guaranteed a medical card because their condition is not considered serious enough.

Health Minister James Reilly confirmed the situation yesterday during a detailed update on the service.

Speaking at the latest Oireachtas health committee meeting, the minister said more than 59,000 discretionary medical cards are provided to people every year.

Unlike normal medical cards, the “discretionary” options can be given to people whose income is higher than the threshold allowed for the support.

In the past, the discretionary documents were regularly handed out to cancer patients when the move was recommended by their doctors and signed off on by local health service management.

However, Dr Reilly said this is no longer the case, with the cards only made available to cancer patients when they have a letter from their doctor confirming their condition is terminal.

“Cancer nowadays is a very different condition, and it ranges from a very desperate diagnosis to a different diagnosis. We have to assess the situation, and decline or give the discretionary medical card on a medical basis.”

The HSE national director of integrated services, Laverne McGuinness, said 59,000 people currently hold a discretionary medical card for a range of health-related reasons.

She added that 43% of the population currently has some form of medical card support.

However, health committee member Seamus Healy said cutbacks are effectively putting hurdles in the way of seriously ill people trying to access the help they need.

“It is almost impossible to get a discretionary card now on medical grounds.

“The view on the ground is that it is impossible unless your GP is willing to write and say your condition is terminal. And I think that is disgraceful, frankly.”

The HSE has been under pressure to reduce the number of cards it provides to patients in order to save the service money.

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