Children with severe disabilities 'cannot wait until unknown date in 2017' for medical cards

Simon Harris confirms 11,000 more children will receive cards as Sinn Féin motion receives cross-party support

Children with severe disabilities 'cannot wait until unknown date in 2017' for medical cards

Minister for Health Simon Harris |Photo: RollingNews.ie

Minister for Health Simon Harris has confirmed that medical cards will be automatically provided to every child in receipt of the domiciliary care allowance from next year.

The allowance is a non-means-tested payment provided to children under the age of 16 who have severe disabilities.

A Sinn Féin motion to extend medical cards to all children qualifying for the payment received cross-party support in the Dáil last night.

Speaking during the debate, Mr Harris said he was committed to ensuring 11,000 more children become eligible for free healthcare.

No child receiving the allowance will be subject to means-testing in the future, he said.

The programme for government committed to extending the entitlement to a medical card in Budget 2017.

Call for urgency

However, Sinn Féin health spokesperson Louise O’Reilly said sick children “cannot wait until an unknown date in 2017”.

“There is no doubt that  there is any member of government or any member of the Oireachtas unaware of the depth of hardship, anxiety and grief being caused by the denial of medical cards to people who desperately need them,” she said.

“We heard some of the many examples here tonight from all sides of the chamber.

“However, when we hear the harrowing stories of gravely sick, ill and disabled children, it strikes an even deeper chord.

“There are parents in the gallery here this evening who now wish to see the actions of this motion brought forward urgently.

“And there are thousands more who could not be here because they are providing full time care for those very sick children.”

Ms O’Reilly called on the government to give certainty to families before the Dáil returns in September.

“We may be rising from the House this week but that does not prohibit the minister from publishing the legislation to give effect to this commitment over the recess.

“In fact, we can provide ours. It can be taken the first week back.

“The commitment has been made. It will be a budget priority for 2017.

“So the minister must publish legislation to give effect to this to ensure that the practices and procedures are in place once the budget has been finalised.”

Families' campaign

Mr Harris said no Dáil motion was necessary to persuade him to extend the provision.

“I have been convinced by the people who are here in the gallery tonight,” he said.

“I have been convinced by the parents of children who are in receipt of domiciliary care allowance, the parents I have met in my own constituency, the parents of children with autism who I have worked with for many years.”

The minister added that he had assured members of the Our Children’s Health campaign, a group representing parents of seriously ill children, that he remained committed to implementing the decision.

“I confirmed that this commitment was a priority for me in the upcoming budget discussions and that my objective was to have legislation to enable it follow quickly after the required resources have been secured,” he told the Dáil. 

Mr Harris also pointed to the "enormous" scale of operations at the HSE's national medical card unit, which administers the scheme.

"In 2015 alone, the [unit] processed almost 400,000 cases," he said. 

"These included 107,000 new applications and 92,000 full reviews of medical card and GP visit card eligibility, as well as over 195,000 self-assessment reviews of eligibility.

"Currently, there are over 1.7 million people registered with a medical card and a further 450,000 people registered with a GP visit card."