That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Health Act 1970 and to provide for related matters.
I thank the Ceann Comhairle for allowing me to introduce the Bill, the purpose of which is simple. It seeks to ensure that there are regular three-year reviews into the effectiveness of the long-term illness scheme in order that changes, upgrades and additions can be made to ensure the scheme is always fit for purpose.
Section 59(3) of the Health Act 1970 allows for the provision without charge of drugs, medicines or medical or surgical appliances to persons suffering from a precise disease or disability of a permanent or long-term nature. These drugs, medicines or medical or surgical appliances are then provided without charge to the patient under a community health scheme known as the long-term illness scheme. The scheme means that people who are diagnosed with specified long-term disease or disability can get a range of medicines from their community pharmacy without cost.
The long-term illness scheme has been a great success since its establishment. It aids thousands of people throughout the State. However, the scheme has not been updated in decades. This means there are many different disabilities, ailments and illnesses that we now know more about and that are long-term or lifelong but which are not covered by the scheme. It is important that the scheme be monitored and reviewed on a consistent basis to determine whether it is fit for purpose and delivering for those who need it.
The absence of any review has caused severe difficulty and distress to many of those affected. They believe the Government does not care about them or want to review the effectiveness of the long-term illness scheme.
The Bill amends the Health Act 1970 to ensure the effectiveness of the provision without charge of drugs, medicines or medical or surgical appliances to persons suffering from a precise disease or disability of a permanent or long-term nature through a review every three years. A regular three-year review into the effectiveness of the long-term illness scheme would ensure that changes upgrades and additions could be made to the scheme to ensure it is always fit for purpose and that it always delivers for those with long-term illnesses.
Several Members raised the issue of the scheme not being updated in almost 50 years in April during statements on fibromyalgia. Many have raised the matter in Topical Issues debates and in other forms. I hope they will engage with and support this Bill so that we can secure the changes to the long-term illness scheme that are so long overdue.