HSE told to make changes to post-mastectomy supports following criticism

New procedures should ensure no woman is at a financial loss with medical card or not

The Health Service Executive has been told to revise planned changes to the supports provided to women following a mastectomy after controversy over its impact on medical-card holders.

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said he has asked the HSE to change new procedures for post-mastectomy supports so that no woman is at a financial loss.

Under the procedures to be introduced next month, all women would be entitled to financial support following a mastectomy, whether they had a medical card or not. However, the effect of the change was to reduce existing entitlements of medical-card holders.

At present, women with a medical card are allowed two post-surgery bras per year, and one breast prosthesis every two years or two prostheses in the case of bilateral surgery.

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Under a new policy due to start on March 4th, all women can avail of an allowance worth €60 for bras and €200 for breast prosthesis.

Providers of these supports noted that while €200 would cover the cost of a breast prosthesis, the €60 allowance would only cover the cost of a single bra.

Most specialised post-surgery bras average cost €64, according to Liz Delahunty, the owner of a post-surgical fitting business in Cork.

Cork Fine Gael TD Colm Burke raised the concerns of providers in the Dáil this week, while Labour’s Senator Annie Hoey described the proposed changes as “mean-spirited”.

In a statement on Wednesday, Mr Donnelly said he was aware of reformed procedures put in place by the HSE and is fully supportive of the provision of supports to all women regardless of medical card status.

However, he understood the threshold of support provided under the new procedures may lead to some women providing less support than previously.

The Minister said he had asked the HSE to amend the procedures to ensure “no woman, either currently availing of the scheme or accessing it in the future, is at any financial loss as a result of these changes”.

The HSE said it would the procedures in line with the Minister’s request. “Our intention was to standardise the allowances for the provision of extremely important post-mastectomy products, including bras and hair loss solutions for people who undergone cancer treatment in Ireland,” a spokeswoman said. “The previous system was unfair and inequitable. However, we understand the point being made and will review the system quickly to ensure the system is fair to everyone and that no woman is at a loss a result of changes.”

In 2017, the HSE was forced to delay changes it was planning then to post-mastectomy supports following criticism.

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Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times