I propose to take Questions Nos. 862, 930 and 944 together.
As the Deputies will be aware, eligibility for medical cards is set out in the Health Act 1970 (as amended). The Act provides that persons, unable without undue hardship having regard to their overall financial situation to arrange GP services for themselves and family, qualify for a medical card. There is no, nor has there ever been, an entitlement to a medical card for a person with a particular illness or medical condition and, therefore, in accordance with the legislation, it is not possible for the HSE to award a medical card.
The HSE has discretion to grant a medical card where a person's income exceeds the income guidelines. This discretion must be exercised by the HSE in accordance with the legislation. However, the fundamental provision in the 1970 Act is that a person is assessed on the basis of undue hardship in arranging a GP service having regard to his or her means.
One of the key goals of the reform of the health system is to ensure that people receive health care according to their particular needs rather than based on their income. It underpins the importance of moving towards a health system based on universality of access. These major reforms take time and Minister Reilly and I recognise the difficulties currently faced by those who are considered ineligible for a medical card. To this end, at Minister Reilly's request, the HSE is currently examining how individuals, who are not entitled to a medical card, could still receive services that meet their needs. This examination relates to all of the services and supports provided by the HSE and with regard to as much flexibility as is available at a local level.
In addition, additional information will be provided and local information points will be established at major health centres around the country, where members of the public can obtain comprehensive information and support in accessing the full range of supports from the Health Services.
The clear intention is to maximise the supports that can be provided in each case to the fullest extent possible. The HSE is seeking to find the best way to achieve this in order to ensure families will receive the support they need. I look forward to seeing these proposals.