Terminally ill woman can’t afford taxi to doctors ‘keeping her alive’

Former palliative care nurse quoted €700 for 2 round-trips to hospital appointments

 Kate Tobin, who   is living with multiple sclerosis,  at her home in Clonroche, Co Wexford. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

Kate Tobin, who is living with multiple sclerosis, at her home in Clonroche, Co Wexford. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

A bed-bound terminally ill woman says she can’t afford to travel to doctors who are keeping her alive because of the cost of taxi fares.

Kate Tobin (53), a former palliative care nurse and nun who is in the latter stages of multiple sclerosis and has brittle bone disease, said her deteriorating condition meant she could not take a bus from her home in Co Wexford to see specialists in Dublin.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) had been providing her with a wheelchair-accessible taxi for appointments while she was in plaster cast for much of last year after an operation.

But, she said, she had now been told to make her own way to St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin, where she is seeing two separate specialists, some 120km from her specially adapted home in Clonroche.

She has been quoted €700 for two round-trip wheelchair-accessible taxi fares to Dublin for upcoming appointments within weeks of each other.

“A group of doctors in Dublin are fighting to keep me alive and then I’ve got a health service that is making it impossible for me to get to appointments that I don’t want to miss,” she said. “But at this stage, the health service is making me miss them.”

She said she felt “very annoyed and angry” at having been “left high and dry”.

Ms Tobin said she could sit in her wheelchair for only three hours at a time, and needed constant assistance from four carers. A Wexford patient transport bus could not accommodate her wheelchair, she said.

Legislation

She wrote to Minister for Health Simon Harris about her plight and his private secretary responded earlier this month, citing legislation that prevented him from intervening.

“Under the Health Act 2004, the Health Service Executive (HSE) is required to manage and deliver, or arrange to be delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services,” the private secretary wrote. “Section 6 of the HSE Governance Act 2013 bars the Minister for Health from directing the HSE to provide a treatment or a personal service to any individual or to confer eligibility on any individual.”

She said she would refer Ms Tobin’s case to the HSE National Complaints Governance and Learning Team, who would then forward it to the “appropriate” hospital group.

“She said she would pass it on to someone else, who would then pass it on to someone else,” said Ms Tobin.

Ms Tobin is surviving on her invalidity pension of €237 a week, which she said would drop back to less than €217 when the fuel allowance is taken away again next month.

She has an electricity bill for €293 which she cannot afford to pay, rent of €34.60 a week and it costs €20 a fortnight to get her bins collected. A subscription to a panic alarm service is due for renewal at a cost of €66.

“At the moment, I can not afford to stay alive,” she said.

Replies

Asked about the case, HSE headquarters referred queries to HSE South East, which referred them to the Ireland East Hospital Group and the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.

The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection said it could not comment on individual cases, but said it provided a travel supplement for regular travel costs for medical appointments as well as an exceptional needs payment.

“Both of these payment supports are means assessed and, as such, the person applying for the payment may be requested to provide other documentation to facilitate a decision,” a spokeswoman said.

Ireland East Hospital Group, which includes St Vincent’s, did not immediately respond.