Fianna Fáil backbechers have sought changes to the income criteria for medical cards in the budget at a private meeting with Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly.
The meeting, which was held on Wednesday afternoon in the absence of the usual parliamentary party meeting, also heard an update on Ireland’s Covid vaccine programme, health spending, and progress towards overall healthcare policy goals.
In a report to the parliamentary party, Mr Donnelly also presented the latest figures on the vaccination campaign, which has seen over 7.13 million doses administered, and 86.8 per cent of those over 12 be fully vaccinated. He outlined how Ireland had the highest cumulative uptake of full vaccination among adults in the EU, and that Covid-19 case numbers are falling while incidence is falling in vaccinated age groups.
Meanwhile, the seven day incidence of Covid-19 in Ireland, measured by cases per 100,000 of population, is significantly below that in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England.
Several members of the parliamentary party told Mr Donnelly that income thresholds should be increased in the budget, and also that access for people with cancer and other conditions to medical cards should be improved, including Cormac Devlin, Dara Calleary, John Lahart and Brendan Smith.
Changes were introduced last year which expanded access to medical cards for those with terminal illness, but TDs and Senators want the issue examined further. Mr Donnelly is said to have committed to examine the issue, but didn’t give a commitment to action at budget time. They also asked that support for family carers and patient waiting lists be examined.
The issue of medical cards is seen as a bread-and-butter one for many Fianna Fáil backbench TDs eager to deliver tangible change for constituents in the budget.
Mr Donnelly told the meeting that arisinng from the pandemic, there had been the largest investment in the public health workforce in decades, and that a deal had been agreed for a new consultant contract and consultant-led public health model.
Of 255 new staff across the public health system, 156 posts have now been filled, the meeting was told. He said 834 new hospital beds had been opened, the largest number in decades, while 25 per cent had been added to critical care capacity, which is projected to grow to 321 by the end of this year. The ultimate goal is to grow it to 446. He told the meeting that there had been a net increase of 4,000 staff in 2021, and that homecare had its largest ever budget in 2021.
He also talked the group through investment in disability services, drug access and reforms around direct GP referrals to diagnostic services. Meanwhile, hospice funding had increased by €10.7 million, and there had been funding increases across maternity, cancer, trauma care, as well as to the National Ambulance Service and dementia strategies.
He updated the meeting on women’s healthcare initiatives including specialist endometriosis and menopause clinics, cancer survivorship clinics and enhanced perinatal mental health support. The meeting heard that planning for winter was at an advanced stage while negotiations continued on a public only consultant contract.