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16th Jan 2015

OPINION: ‘Nobody Should Have To Worry About Bills When Their Child’s Life Is Hanging In The Balance’

The HSE has refused to grant a medical card to an eight-year-old cancer patient.

Tonight, there is a woman sitting in a children’s hospital in Dublin with her daughter.

As Angela O’Connor watches her child undergo a series of painful and distressing treatments and surgeries for the life-threatening cancer that is ravaging her young body, she is also worrying about something else entirely.

After eight-year-old Lucy was diagnosed with her illness, her mother did what any parent would do and gave up her job so she could be at her daughter’s side and support her through this ordeal.

She had hoped that after years of diligently paying her taxes and working to support her family, she could depend on the State to help her in their time of need.

Unfortunately, she was wrong.

Instead, Angela is sitting at her child’s bedside trying to balance budgets and see if she can afford to pay for her daughter’s medication for the next twelve months, as well as paying the rent.

While Lucy sleeps, she’s working out how to scrimp together enough money to afford a wig to replace the hair that has been claimed by the cancer and minimize the emotional impact of this nightmare situation.

Regardless of her family’s financial circumstances, nobody should have to worry about medical bills at a time when their child’s life is hanging in the balance.

It’s said that a society can be judged by the way in which it treats its weakest members and if that is the case, then the appalling treatment of the O’Connor family is a damning indictment of our country.

The thing is, this is far from an exceptional case.

Every day, our elderly are left to spend their final days on trollies in hospital corridors, intellectually disabled teenagers are left in limbo with no access to educational services after they turn 18 and those living in the country are told that they are not entitled to swift ambulance response times because they are “too rural”… the list is endless.

Given the publicity in recent days, the HSE will most likely bow to public pressure and reconsider the O’Connor case but there are many more families around the country who will not not receive such dispensation.

This Government has made a fine art of providing saccharine soundbites and garbled non-committal responses but Health Minister Leo Varadkar’s promises that the medical card system is being reformed are cold comfort to people on the coalface.

While introducing free GP care for the children under six was undoubtedly a popular move with many of the party’s potential voters, the implementation of crude, universal benefits at a time where more serious cases are being ignored just highlights the fact that those in power have adopted a ‘throw mud at the wall and some might stick’ approach to solving the issues facing the health system.

We are consistently being told that Ireland has “turned a corner” and how the country is excelling in many sectors but until we learn to take care of our vulnerable, we have absolutely nothing to be proud of.