Health Minister postpones plan to ration breast cancer supports

The HSE had planned to ration supports in some areas in order to extend them nationwide

Health Minister postpones plan to ration breast cancer supports

File photo, the Minister for Health Simon Harris. Image: Sam Boal / RollingNews

The Health Minister has asked the HSE to postpone plans to ration supports for cancer survivors following major criticism.

The new plan was due to come into force today – but has now been postponed for a month.

The proposals to cap funding for post mastectomy bras and prostheses could have seen thousands of breast cancer survivors facing extra financial pressure.

Funding would have been reduced in areas where the scheme is performing well, so that it could be extended nationwide – as well as to patients who do not hold medical cards.

Changes were also planned for the provision of wigs or hairpieces to patients.

Defending the plan last night, the HSE told The Irish Independent that it would allow equal access to services countrywide while there are no longer areas without supports.

Unaware of the proposals

In a statement this morning the Minister for Health Simon Harris said he only heard of the planned changes yesterday.

“This was the first I heard of these changes,” he said.

“When I became aware of the proposed changes, I intervened and their introduction is now deferred.”

He said that while the HSE is working to improve supports throughout the country, “this cannot take place before plans are put in place to ensure there is no hardship or reduction of supports for patients who are already receiving a particular level of service.”

“I have asked the HSE to come back to me with an enhanced plan that doesn't adversely affect women who are already coping with cancer.

“I want to ensure that they are not subjected to additional stress and worry about losing services.”

He said he has made it very clear to the health service that “there cannot be any cuts in this area."  

“It is essential that every woman in this country in receipt of post-operative and cancer treatment supports continues to receive them,” he said.

Essential supports

Veronica O'Leary from Purple House Cancer Support said the supplies are “expensive” adding that “it shouldn’t be that way.”

“People get ill regardless of their financial circumstances so it should be their basic right to have all the surgical needs and the mastectomy bras and the prosthesis fitted without the question of money.”

“I would see that as a fundamental right.”

Funding caps

Under the original proposals, women would only receive an allowance of €68.50 for one breast prosthesis every two years.

They would no longer be provided with surgical bras - other than those supplied when leaving the hospital.

Wigs and hairpieces would only be provided on a once-off basis for cancer-related hair loss, and cancer-related alopecia.

Patients would receive a maximum €440 voucher to purchase the wig or hairpiece.