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 Header Item Young People and Access to Further and Higher Education: Motion [Private Members] (Continued)
 Header Item Ábhair Shaincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Matters
 Header Item Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate
 Header Item Medical Cards

Thursday, 11 March 2021

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 1005 No. 2
Unrevised

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Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett I thank everyone who contributed to this debate. Mostly, however, I thank young people and students for forcing these issues to the top of the agenda, especially during this period of Covid-19. I thank the leaving certificate students this year and last year who simply refused to do the leaving certificate examinations, despite the Government's obsession with trying to carry on with them. Those students insisted they were not going to be forced to do the leaving certificate examinations and they forced the Government to respond to them.

I also thank the student nurses and midwives who educated us all about the dishonesty of the praise for front-line healthcare workers when thousands of student nurses and midwives were working for nothing on the front line during their placements. I thank the occupational therapists, the radiographers and the physiotherapists who contacted us. I extend my thanks as well to the graduate entry medical students, graduate entry pharmacy students and other student health professionals in training for raising the issue of how difficult it is for them to continue and complete their education because of the cost of fees and the exorbitant cost of accommodation. They are just sick of the situation.

In a time when we need those students more than ever, we are making it extraordinarily difficult for them. We put immense pressure and stress on them, instead of making it easier for those students to complete their education, which is of benefit to us all. If we have learned anything from the experience of Covid-19, it is that we need these young people. We need them in our health services. We need young people to build the houses we so desperately require. We need more teachers in our overcrowded classrooms, which are some of the most overcrowded in Europe. We could through the whole list of such requirements.

I thank the Union of Students in Ireland, USI, for their "Education for All" campaign which plays a central part in this motion. The members of that organisation are determined to fight to get rid of fees and to remove the barriers to getting into and completing courses of education. I heard the Minister saying he agrees with much of the sentiment of this motion, but that it will take time to achieve progress and we can only do it incrementally etc.. It is just not good enough to say that he agrees with the sentiment of the motion.

The fact of the matter is that 80,000 students have applied to the CAO application process but only 55,000 places are available. Consequently, 25,000 students who have gone through the anxiety, the hardship, the stress, the competition and the pressure that is associated with the leaving certificate examinations every year - but that has been added to even more this year because college applications are being undertaken in the midst of a pandemic - are going to be disappointed. Potentially, they are going to be demoralised. It is already an extraordinarily difficult situation. Who is to blame for that? It is the Government and the State, because they should have provided the required 80,000 places. Nobody should have to be demoralised, depressed, feel excluded and be denied access to that next level of education.

If we do not address this situation now, then when will we? If this is not the moment for the Government to make the radical changes to ensure people can progress to the higher education, further education or apprenticeship courses of their choice, then when is it going to do that? If this is not the moment when the Government is going to scrap the fees to remove the pressure that leads to the mental health problems suffered by so many young people and address the great financial pressure being placed on so many families, then when will we do it? If we are not going to regularise the situations of the thousands of people working in the higher education system who are on part-time and temporary contracts and who are underpaid and living in poverty, then when are we going to do that? We need people who do research and who push the boundaries of science, art, culture and technological advancement. If we are not going to address this situation now, after this pandemic and the existential challenge it has posed to our society, then when are we going to do it?

We propose this motion on that basis and I encourage the students and young people who made their voices heard over the last year to continue that fight for education for all.

  Amendment put.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Insofar as a vote has been called, it is deferred until the next weekly division time can be held. I thank the Deputies for their co-operation on this matter.

Ábhair Shaincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Matters

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl I wish to advise the House of the following matters in respect of which notice has been given under Standing Order 37 and the name of the Member in each case: (1) Deputy Jennifer Murnane O'Connor - streamlining the process to seek a refund of phlebotomy charges incorrectly incurred by medical card patients; (2) Deputy Ciarán Cannon - a new training programme for gardai to protect vulnerable road users and establish a dedicated online portal for the submission of video evidence of potential violations of road traffic legislation; (3) Deputy Steven Matthews - to conduct a review of existing mental health services in County Wicklow; (4) Deputy Pádraig O'Sullivan - an update on the plans for St Gabriel’s Special School in Bishopstown; (5) Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn - to discuss the Government approach to upcoming EU negotiations on fishing quotas and the need to protect the Irish fishing industry post-Brexit; (6) Deputies Jim O'Callaghan and Chris Andrews - to discuss permitting children to recommence playing sport outdoors; (7) Deputies Ged Nash, Imelda Munster, Fergus O'Dowd - to discuss the need for funding for the Drogheda Northern Port access route; (8) Deputy Louise O'Reilly - to discuss the appointment of additional inspectors to the Workplace Relations Commission; (9) Deputy Willie O'Dea - to discuss incresing the basic rate under the wage subsidy scheme; (10) Deputy Niamh Smyth - to ask the Minister to urgently implement the key recommendations of the Hennessy report and introduce a co-financed funding scheme (industry and State) as outlined to support the poultry sector in Cavan Monaghan; (11) Deputies Paul Murphy, John Lahart, Seán Crowe and Francis Noel Duffy - to discuss the response to open drug dealing and drug-related intimidation in Dublin South West; (12) Deputy Matt Carthy - to discuss plans for the opening of the Group Home in Carrickmacross for people with physical and sensory disabilities; (13) Deputy Jennifer Whitmore - to discuss the urgent need to tackle gorse fires in the Wicklow mountains and our national parks; (14) Deputies Carol Nolan, Mattie McGrath andMichael Collins - to discuss the financial impact on the Agri-Merchant sector of upcoming EU regulations governing the prescribing of certain veterinary medicines; (15) Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin - to discuss the increasing concerns identified in second level schools in North Dublin for the new school year in September 2021; (16) Deputy Dessie Ellis - to discuss issues at a vacant apartment complex located at Prospect Hill, Finglas; (17) Deputies Neale Richmond and Jennifer Carroll MacNeill - to discuss issues concerning operations of the Passport Office; (18) Deputy Pat Buckley - to discuss water and sewerage capacity issues highlighted by Irish Water in the Midleton area of Cork; (19) Deputy Maurice Quinlivan - to discuss the pending job losses at Rehab Logistics Facility at Raheen, Limerick; (20) Deputy David Stanton - to discuss the shortage of places in second level schools in the East Cork area for the 2021/2022 academic year; (21) Deputy Kieran O'Donnell - to discuss plans to recommence the assessments on primary medical certificate applications; (22) Deputy Mick Barry - to discuss the recent announcement of compulsory redundancies in OCS at Cork Airport; (23) Deputy Thomas Gould - to discuss the continued closure of Southdoc Blackpool, Cork; and (24) Deputy Kathleen Funchion - to discuss supports and public awareness programmes in place to address the consequences of Covid-19 on mental health in the aftermath of the public health emergency.

The matters raised by Deputies Jennifer Murnane O'Connor; Paul Murphy, John Lahart, Seán Crowe and Francis Noel Duffy; David Stanton; and Jennifer Whitmore have been selected for discussion.

Saincheisteanna Tráthúla - Topical Issue Debate

Medical Cards

Deputy Jennifer Murnane O'Connor: Information on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor Zoom on Jennifer Murnane O'Connor 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.


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