The situation, which, if true, could have prevented the most serious medical card scandals from taking place, emerged after Health Minister Leo Varadkar announced plans to allow GPs to veto the removal of the cards in rare cases.
Under measures launched by Mr Varadkar on Tuesday, family doctors were told they could reinstate a discretionary medical card to patients for four months, and for up to a year in certain circumstances, if they believed it had been wrongly removed.
However, while the measure was initially seen as a key step towards creating a more humane medical card system, the HSE last night claimed GPs have always had this right — but were unaware of the power.
Responding to queries from the Irish Examiner, a spokesperson for Mr Varadkar said the power was already in operation and that the new plan was about “copper-fastening” the measure “by way of regulation”.
The HSE added the sensitive renewal rule has been in place since a deal it claims was made with the Irish Medical Organisation in 2012, and has been used over 850 times this year.
A document co-signed by the HSE’s head of the primary care reimbursement scheme Paddy Burke and then IMO chief executive George McNeice, outlining what appears to be the policy and which was sent out to all GPs, was provided by the HSE to support its claim.
However, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), the National Association of General Practitioners and Irish College of General Practitioners — which together represent 90% of GPs — said no deal existed and they were never told of this right.
A spokesperson for the IMO said the only medical card power doctors previously had was to add a newborn child to the system in exceptional circumstances.
The ICGP said they had no knowledge of any deal, while NAGP chair Dr Andrew Jordan said of the HSE and Mr Varadkar’s claims: “If something as important as this was in place then you would surely think it would have been mentioned.
“Why did no one in the HSE say we could help a child with Down Syndrome, we could help someone with cancer? It is beyond comprehension we always had the power but didn’t use it.
“We weren’t told about it. They’re expecting us to believe something that is straight out of Monty Python.”