The unpopular prescription charge for medical card holders, which generates around €120m a year, is likely to have led to hundreds of people suffering strokes or heart attack, a health economist warned yesterday.
Prof Charles Normand of Trinity College, Dublin, said the charge, which now costs €2.50 per item, up to a maximum of €25 per month, had caused people with blood pressure to cut down on their medication on cost grounds.
This would have resulted in around 200-300 strokes and a similar number of heart attacks annually, he told a conference organised by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation.
Speaking on funding of the health service he said: “There is little evidence that user fees lead to less wasteful use of services.
“There is good evidence that barriers reduce necessary use of services.”
His comments came as the Cabinet signed off on a health service supplementary estimate of €665m for 2015.
It will cover additional services provided for this year including free GP care for the under-sixes and over 70s, as well as measures to ease overcrowding in emergency departments.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar said: “The Estimate covers both one-off bills for 2015 including the symphysiotomy payment scheme, legal claims, and recurring costs.
“These recurring costs are fully incorporated into the base and expenditure ceiling which has been increased by €880m in Budget 2016.”
He insisted he was “confident that the health sector is entering 2016 on a more stable financial footing than has been the case for the last number of years.”
In response, Fianna Fail spokesman on health Deputy Billy Kelleher said the supplementary estimate announced was 10pc greater than what was signalled in the October Budget.
“It also comes in the wake of the Minister’s announcing a €635m increase in health expenditure in 2015. By comparison, the €680m supplementary budget arising in 2014 from Minister Reilly’s final health budget followed a planned cut of €272m in the health services budget in 2014.
“The minister kicks off his statement today by saying that the Cabinet has signed off on the supplementary to cover extra services provided this year such as free GP care for the under sixes and over 70s, and the Winter Initiative to tackle A&E overcrowding, in addition to once-off costs.
“It has to be said while the Minister is lavish with the spin, he is very sparse with the detail in today’s announcement and we may have to wait until he comes before the Oireachtas Select Committee on Health next week before we get the full story.
“One thing is clear after five years of bogus budgets that the health service has been extremely badly served by Fine Gael and Labour.”