Written Answers. - Incidence of Asthma.

Trevor Sargent

Ceist:

33 Mr. Sargent asked the Minister for Health the plans, if any, he has to classify asthma as a notifiable disease taking into account the range of respiratory conditions covered by the term; the plans, if any, he has to assess the growing incidence of asthma in the country; the reason for this growing incidence; and if he will make a statement in respect of the burden of cost which the treatment of asthma imposes on many sufferers and their families. [8777/96]

,Limerick East): Asthma cannot be construed as an infectious disease within the meaning of the 1947 Health Act and cannot, therefore, be classified as an infectious disease.

Asthma appears to be increasing in Western Europe. The reasons for such an increase are unclear, but it is suggested that changes in the home environment favourable to proliferation of the house dust mite, earlier diagnosis and relabelling of symptoms such as wheeze, and an increase in air pollution levels, may all be contributory factors. The Health Research Board is supporting a project looking at the epidemiology of a number of conditions, including asthma. It is expected that the findings of this study will be available next year.

The establishment of the new public health departments in the health boards, with their emphasis on epidemiology, will greatly improve the level and quality of information on all diseases and conditions, including asthma, in each local area.

With regard to the cost incurred by persons in respect of the treatment of asthma, persons who suffer from an ongoing medical condition can avail of the drug cost subsidisation scheme. This scheme caters for people who do not have a medical card and are certified by their general practitioner as having a long-term medical condition, such as asthma, with a regular and ongoing requirement for prescribed drugs and medicines. Persons who qualify for inclusion in this scheme will not have to spend more than £32 in any month on prescribed medication.
Where an individual or a family is subjected to a significant level of ongoing expenditure on medical expenses — general practitioner fees, prescribed drugs etc. — due to a long-term medical condition, these expenses may be reckoned in determining eligibility for a medical card.
In the case where a particular child or member of a family is incurring heavy expenditure due to their asthma condition, the chief executive officer of the health board may grant a medical card to cover that child or individual, rather than issue a card to cover the whole family. Eligibility for a medical card is solely a matter for the chief executive officer of the relevant health board to decide.
Under the drugs refund scheme, which covers expenditure by the whole family, any expenditure on prescribed medicine above £90 in a calendar quarter is refunded by the health board.
I am satisfied that appropriate and comprehensive treatment and financial assistance is being provided to asthma patients through the existing range of services and support schemes available.