Darragh’s uphill struggle to gain medical card leads to fresh calls for Government to fix ‘broken system’
‘Parents are exhausted from caring for their children and don’t have the energy to fight to get what their children deserve’
Darragh Dooley (4) has cerebral palsy and epilepsy. He also has learning difficulties. His parents, both teachers, applied for a Medical card shortly after he was born but they were refused. They eventually were granted a medical card.
When Darragh Dooley turned four last week the celebrations were low key: a small party and a birthday cake shared with his grandparents and some of the children from his neighbourhood in Tramore, Co Waterford.
But ask his parents Louise and Dermot what the best birthday present their son received this year was and they will tell you that it came in the form of a nondescript envelope containing Darragh’s medical card.
It might be presumed by those unfamiliar with the system that Darragh – who has cerebral palsy and epilepsy, who has learning difficulties and is unable to talk, who has microcephaly, a condition which means his brain is not growing at the correct rate – would be automatically entitled to a medical card.
However, when his parents, both teachers, applied for a card shortly after their son’s birth they were refused. The refusal was on the basis that they were slightly over the threshold for the card, which is means-tested and not an automatic entitlement for individuals with specific illnesses.
The Jack and Jill Foundation has argued that the Government should fix the “broken medical card system” to allow children such as Darragh to receive a card automatically, arguing that this should be prioritised ahead of a free GP scheme for under-fives announced under the budget.
It is a stance which Darragh’s mother Louise Dooley, for whom the decision to refuse the medical card was unfathomable, agrees with.
“Surely a child like Darragh should qualify without having to jump through hoops, and without begging please,” she said.
“He is severely disabled. On a scale of one to 10, 10 being the worst, his neurologist rated him as a nine and told us that his life expectancy would be short.”
In his first year of life Darragh had 65 medical appointments, most of which were free through the public health system.
However, travel costs, overnight stays in Dublin, medication which, at that time, cost €120 a month and the fact that Louise could only return to work on a part-time basis, all added up.
While still adjusting to being a first-time-mother with a severely disabled baby prone to illness and epileptic fits, Ms Dooley spent part of her time writing “begging emails” to try to secure a medical card.
Eventually, when Darragh was 20 months old, he was granted it due to his exceptional medical needs.
The medical card meant the prescription costs were alleviated (although Darragh also qualifies for these under the long-term illness scheme) and that his GP costs were covered.
Free doctor visits are very important to the family: “He gets sick so fast and that’s why we need access to the GP because if he gets a chest infection, it can develop quickly into pneumonia . . . it’s just vital to be able to get to the GP in time.”