Wednesday, 1 February 2017
Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016: Second Stage
I thank the Senators for their contributions to the Second Stage debate on the Health (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill. The provisions in this Bill will allay the fears of the recipients of the ex gratiaawards that have been approved by Government. It would be most unfair if people who receive such an award were then disadvantaged in their financial assessment for support under the nursing home support scheme by virtue of receiving an award. I hope this will give peace of mind to the individuals concerned and their families.
Some raised the question regarding medical cards. The Bill today makes proposals on the amendment of the Nursing Homes Support Scheme Act 2009 or the fair deal scheme and accordingly it does not relate to the eligibility for medical cards. I assure Senators that where questions have been asked that were not relevant to the Bill, I will bring the message to the Minister and the Health Service Executive, which is the relevant body, and we can ensure Senators' opinions are carried to the right areas. On the issue of support for accessing services by women who have had a symphysiotomy, services for them are facilitated by symphysiotomy liaison officers, who are based around the country and the provision of a medical card is included in that. I hope that provides some clarity.
With regard to public health, it is important to remind ourselves why tobacco control measures like this one are so important. A total of 23% of Irish people are daily and occasional smokers and 8% of our ten to 17 year olds smoke. While the reduction in these figures over the past number of years is significant and welcome, we are a long way from reaching our 5% prevalence rate set out in our Tobacco Free Ireland policy. Nearly 6,000 Irish people are killed annually by smoking. The human cost of smoking in Ireland today is overwhelming. In the Tobacco Free Ireland policy, we aim to be tobacco free by 2020. The minimum rate is a 5% prevalence rate, which is set out in that policy.
Less important but still significant is the economic cost of smoking in Ireland. Annual health care costs associated with it are €506 million; lost productivity costs are €1 billion and the cost of litter associated with smoking is €69 million. This economic assessment undertaken on behalf of the Department of Health also estimates the costs associated with the deterioration in an individual's ability to live a full life. The value of loss associated with this deterioration has been estimated as being more than €9 billion annually. These costs are very significant and show how reducing smoking in Ireland can both improve the health and well-being of the people and reduce the cost to taxpayers in dealing with the impact of smoking in the longer term. While work must continue on reducing smoking rates, we can be proud of what we have achieved over the past couple of decades.I refer to such measures as the introduction of the workplace smoking ban in 2004, the ban on point-of-sale display and advertising in 2009, picture warnings in 2013 and the ban on smoking in cars in which children were present in 2016. These measures have contributed to increasing awareness and reducing the harm caused in Ireland by tobacco, but we will not and cannot stop there. Standardised packaging is the subject of one of a number of recommendations set out in Tobacco Free Ireland. I am committed to ensuring we will continue to implement this policy to ensure our children and our children's children will get to experience a tobacco-free Ireland. I ask all Senators to support not only the standardised packaging measure being discussed but all future tobacco control measures implemented by my colleague, the Minister, Deputy Simon Harris, and me.
The provision included in the Bill to amend the Health (Pricing and Supply of Medical Goods) Act 2013 is also intended to benefit the health of the population. It provides that, when considered appropriate in the interests of patient safety or public health, over-the-counter medicines can continue to be reimbursed for medical card holders after May 2018. This means that products such as nicotine replacement products and emergency contraception can continue to be provided under the medical card scheme. The amendment to the Irish Medicines Board Act 1995 will allow the payment of fees to members of the Health Products Regulatory Authority in line with the arrangements made in other boards in order to continue to attract experts of the highest calibre to apply for board membership at no additional cost to the taxpayer.
I thank Senators for their valuable contributions on Second Stage and look forward to further constructive examination of the Bill on Committee Stage. I reiterate that the relevant points that will not be dealt with in this legislation will be taken on board and conveyed to the Minister and the Health Service Executive.