Dáil Éireann - Volume 508 - 06 October, 1999

Adjournment Debate. - Medical Charges.

Mr. Browne (Carlow-Kilkenny): Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabhail as ucht deis a thabhairt dom an fhadhb seo a phlé. Tá mé buíoch freisin go bhfuil an tAire Stáit i láthair chun freagra a thabhairt dom.

Medical card holders should not be charged £25 for receiving the anti-influenza injection from their general practitioners. They are the meat in the sandwich, so to speak, in the row between the Department of Health and Children and the general practitioners. This should not happen particularly as this is the year of the older person. If there is a serious 'flu epidemic this winter, it could cause serious hardship to many medical card holders who are elderly. It could even be worse than hardship, depending on the seriousness of the outbreak. The cost to the State of the possible hospitalisation of some of these people would be increased.

It is penny wise and pound foolish and, at the same time, grossly unfair to medical card holders. I ask the Minister of State to ensure that either the Minister or his representatives deal with this problem with the doctors and ensure the people who cannot afford to pay for medical care, which is why they have medical cards, are not deprived of the anti-influenza injection.

Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children (Dr. Moffatt): I thank Deputy Browne for raising this matter on the Adjournment. On behalf of the Minister for Health and Children, I wish to take this opportunity to set out the position in relation to this important issue.

Annual vaccination against influenza of all older people and others who are at risk is an effective way of reducing infection, associated illnesses, hospitalisation and mortality. Influenza outbreaks occur virtually every year. Global epidemics or pandemics occur approximately every ten to 15 years and it is therefore important that vulnerable groups are vaccinated.

[1251] Each autumn the health boards purchase a quantity of influenza vaccine for provision to at-risk persons with medical cards. In 1998 the quantity purchased was increased by 100,000 doses to approximately 300,000 doses and a similar quantity has been purchased this year. The strains against which the vaccine should protect are recommended each year by the World Health Organisation and the vaccine purchased is in accordance with its advice in this regard.

Up to this year this vaccine was given to medical card holders by their general practitioners as part of the service covered by the capitation payment they receive for medical card patients. The Irish Medical Organisation has sought a specific payment for providing the vaccine to medical card holders. There is no funding in the 1999 Esti[1252] mates for the payment of such a fee to general practitioners. This matter was the subject of discussion between the Health Services Employers Agency and the Irish Medical Organisation on 9 September. The Irish Medical Organisation subsequently indicated that it had advised its members to charge GMS patients for administration of the vaccine.

A further meeting between the Health Service Employers' Agency and the Irish Medical Organisation has been arranged for tomorrow morning, Thursday, 7 October. I do not consider that I should comment any further on this matter pending the outcome of this meeting. However, I share the Deputy's concern in relation to this matter, particularly as we are approaching the season where influenza may become prevalent.

The Dáil adjourned at 9.16 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 7 October 1999.