A GP and a pharmacist that offer medical help to the homeless have criticised the State’s prescription levy on vulnerable people as a “false economy”.
The levy per item of medication is a serious deterrent for those most in need of help, GP Dr Kieran Coleman and pharmacist Frank McAnena have pointed out.
They claim that people with complex medical needs, who have not taken medication, end up in hospital emergency departments, at a greater cost to the State.
Dr Coleman and nurse Regina Boyle provide a walk-in clinic and medical outreach service for homeless people in Galway City which is run through the HSE’s National Office for Social Inclusion and two non-governmental organisations, Galway Simon and Cope Galway.
Pharmacist Mr McAnena has offered to waive the €2 prescription charge for patients, but both he and Dr Coleman question why the HSE is imposing the charge on homeless people in the first place.
The levy per prescription item charge was introduced for medical card-holders in 2010, with a monthly maximum.
It started at 50c, but is now €2 per item, and €1.50 per item for people aged over 70.
It is waived for asylum seekers under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme, methadone users, and those with a long-term illness.
Dr Coleman and Mr McAnena point out that rough sleepers often have complex medical and psychiatric conditions, requiring medication, and every effort should be made by the State to support them.
“Complex patients with complex needs need complex care,” Mr McAnena said.
Dr Coleman said someone with diabetes who requires insulin and may have other conditions, would face an estimated extra €10 cost per week to cover the prescription levy.
“It becomes a reason not to take medication,” said Dr Coleman.
“When they then arrive into an emergency department which is already overcrowded, it is costing the State far more than waiving this charge would.”
Mr McAnena pioneered a weekly delivery service for people who are at risk of forgetting to take medication, and extended his work into working with homeless people two years ago.
The pharmacist has also urged Health Minister Simon Harris to undertake a pilot scheme for a “domiciliary pharmacy” which would improve compliance and prevent hoarding and ordering of unnecessary medications.
The HSE did not provide a comment.