Terminally ill woman’s medical card delay complaint upheld

Ombudsman’s annual report criticises HSE handling of medical card application

Ombudsman Peter Tyndall expressed concern the HSE did not contact the woman directly, but communicated with her hospital instead. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Ombudsman Peter Tyndall expressed concern the HSE did not contact the woman directly, but communicated with her hospital instead. File photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

A husband’s complaint over delays by the Health Service Executive (HSE) issuing a medical card to his terminally ill wife, which arrived the day before she died, has been upheld by the Ombudsman.

The Irish woman, who had been living in America but still had a house in Co Clare, applied for a medical card in October 2016, after she was diagnosed with cancer and given a year to live, and wished to spend it in Ireland near friends and family.

The woman did not have private insurance in Ireland, and needed a medical card to cover the large costs of her cancer treatment.

However, the HSE did not register or process her application as she was not resident in Ireland. The woman applied again through her hospital, but the HSE said she would need proof she was resident in Ireland, or would be living in the country for more than 12 months.

The woman moved back to Co Clare in April 2017 after her health deteriorated, and two days later the HSE issued her an emergency medical card, but the woman died the next day.

Ombudsman Peter Tyndall criticised several aspects of the HSE’s handling of the case, in his 2018 annual report.

Mr Tyndall expressed concern the HSE did not contact the woman directly, but communicated with her hospital instead. On foot of a review the HSE now logs all medical card applications, and communicates decisions directly with applicants.

Last year the Office of the Ombudsman received 3,364 complaints from members of the public, around a third of which were about Government departments. Some 879 complaints were about local authority services, and 730 related to health and social care services.

Direct provision

Out of 1,530 cases where complaints were substantively assessed, 26 per cent were fully upheld, and 52 per cent were not upheld.

In his annual report, Mr Tyndall said his office had received 152 complaints from direct provision residents, over 100 of which were about accommodation centres.

The annual report noted just two complaints had been made by people with disabilities, over services’ failure to provide access to public buildings or information. Mr Tyndall said the low number of reports was “very disappointing,” and it was important people with disabilities were aware of their rights, he said.

In the Ombudsman’s 2017 annual report, he criticised Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, over how it handled complaints. On foot of the criticism the agency drew up a plan for improvements, which it has set about introducing.

“I remain concerned about the way that Tusla is dealing with complaints and will keep matters under review to determine whether further action is required,” Mr Tyndall’s recent report said.

In another complaint upheld by the Ombudsman, a man was distressed as he was able to hear the loud noise of surgical instruments during an operation on his spine. The surgery was done under local anaesthetic at Limerick University Hospital, but the man was not provided with earphones to block out the noise, as is normally the case.