I welcome the new arrangements announced recently by the Minister of State, Deputy Feighan, for those with medical prognoses of up to 24 months to be eligible for a medical card. I would go further in this regard and state that all cancer patients, regardless of their prognoses, should be automatically approved for a medical card. Cancer patients can be given a discretionary medical card, but there are no common rules for applying that discretion and there are delays in the application system. I ask the Minister of State to examine this situation.
The existing medical card system has many issues. While this temporary arrangement fixes one issue, there are others and I am here to discuss one of those issues today. The provision of routine blood tests without charge to holders of medical cards or general practitioner, GP, visit cards is included under the current general medical services, GMS, contract. However, some GPs continue to charge GMS patients for blood tests in some circumstances. There is no provision under the contract for medical card or GP visit card holders to be charged for blood tests provided by their GP to either assist in the diagnosis of illness or the treatment of a condition. These blood tests should be free of charge for patients who hold a medical card or GP visit card.
In the midst of a pandemic, my office is still inundated with calls about GPs charging some people who have medical cards for blood tests. I am concerned that the only way to have these charges refunded is to write a letter to the HSE seeking it. The patient in that case must compose a letter outlining why he or she went to the doctor to have their blood test and they then have to send the letter to the HSE.
I recently submitted a parliamentary question on the numbers seeking such refunds in my constituency. I was informed by the HSE that seven refund applications were made last year and seven refunds were issued. My office is inundated with calls on this matter, so I am certain that the procedure to apply for the refund is a barrier to applicants. More people come to me than these figures would suggest and we do our best to help them. The act of having to lay out all the information in a letter is difficult, however, and I do not think we should be allowing this to happen.
If legislation is needed, I am happy to work with the Minister of State on it. If GPs need to be guided in a better way, I am also happy to assist the Minister of State with that endeavour. At the very least, however, we must stop this charging for blood tests for medical card patients when they are not supposed to be charged. I am happy to help and to seek the refunds on behalf of my constituents, but it is wrong that this must be done. It is wrong to put patients through this process and I ask the Minister of State to examine a better option. These tests should be free and we must get some legislation in this area.
While I am talking about the subject of medical cards, another issue on which I am receiving many calls concerns dentists not taking medical cards. I have been contacted by several people with medical cards and they have told me that dentists will not take their medical cards. That is unacceptable. We must ensure that cannot happen and I ask the Minister of State to ensure that we get this situation sorted out as soon as possible.
It has been a year and the issue persists.