Seanad debates

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016: Second Stage


10:30 am

Photo of Colm BurkeColm Burke (Fine Gael) | Oireachtas source

As the Minister of State outlined, the Bill amends several Acts, including the Irish Medicines Board Act 1995, the Nursing Homes Support Scheme Act 2009, the Health (Pricing and Supply of Medical Goods) Act 2013 and the Public Health (Standardised Packaging of Tobacco) Act 2015.

Like my colleague, I welcome the amendment to the Nursing Homes Support Scheme Act 2009 and its application to persons who have received compensation awards under the surgical symphysiotomy payment scheme, the Lourdes hospital redress board scheme and the Lourdes hospital payment scheme, as well as payments made to survivors of thalidomide. A small number of people, around 600, benefited from these schemes. In the case of a recipient who is over 70 years and has these moneys on deposit, will they be taken into account when calculating his or her entitlement to a medical card? I have recently come across cases of pensioners over 70 years who may have a pension of €450 per week but who may have more requirements, whether it be for medical or other care.

An old structure is in place for determining what interest a person is deemed to have earned on such moneys. We all know that the interest one earns on deposits is now extremely small, but there has been no adjustment made for several years to take account of this. I have encountered people who were not able to qualify for a medical card because of the interest they were deemed to be earning when, in fact, they were earning nothing. Will the Minister of State examine this issue and incorporate it into the Bill? I might be wrong, but it is my understanding the Bill does not deal with it. Most of those who received compensation under the schemes in question are now over 70 years. It is an issue to be examined from the point of view of entitlement to a medical card.

On standardised packaging, it is important all tobacco products carry adequate health warnings. The manufacturing industry raised its concerns with me about the date of operation. The Minister of State clarified that the commencement date would be set in a statutory instrument or regulation as opposed to being the date the Bill was passed. The industry has a lead-in time for the production of packaging and will require additional time. The Minister of State has clarified the issue.

It is important that every aspect of advising people of the risks of smoking be outlined clearly. Every week we come across cases of people with an illness or cancer as a direct result of smoking for a long time. A significant number of people commence smoking before they reach the age of 18 years. While it is more difficult to encourage smokers to stop, it is only right that we discourage people, particularly younger people, from taking it up. For several years there has been an increase in the number of young girls who are smoking. While it may have levelled off, it needs to be monitored to ensure the legislation put in place and the information made available has an effect.

On the prescription charge which medical card patients must pay, it was introduced at a time when people in Ireland were consuming more medication per head of population than in any other European country. In 2000 the State’s annual bill for medications was €500 million; it is now over €2 billion. There may be cases of people receiving medication under the medical card scheme and not using them. It might be interesting for the Department or the HSE to carry out some research on the effect of the prescription charge in the acquiring of medication. From what I understand, it has had an effect. Should the limit be increased to take into account the fact that older people require more support? More research needs to carried out. We need to get the message across that drugs should be used effectively. Will we end up in a situation several years from now where, no matter what drug is prescribed, they will have no medical effect? It is a growing problem, particularly in the United States.

I welcome the legislation as it amends key legislative provisions. It is important that it be progressed to ensure it will come into effect as soon as possible.


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