A LOCAL mother-of-one, whose son was born with Down’s syndrome, will march on the Dail this Saturday, in protest at the cutting of her son’s discretional medical card.
Noreen Keane, who hails from Charleville and now lives in Clonlara, is raising her eight-year-old son Ronan on her own.
She was left furious in September after being told that under the government’s ‘probity review’, the medical card she relies on to pay for Ronan’s many medical needs was being withdrawn.
“They felt it was not unduly burdensome on us, and it wouldn’t cause us undue hardship,” Noreen confirmed.
But this means she now has to foot a bill of €1,500 each month, and has admitted she is living on her overdraft.
She has made a fresh appeal for the decision to be overturned, and will make her point on a six mile walk from the Primary Care Reimbursement Service in Finglas on Dublin’s northside to Dail Eireann.
The six-mile walk starts at 11am, and they are expected to reach Leinster House by 3pm.
Despite lobbying both Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Health Minister Dr James Reilly on the matter - including a picket outside Fine Gael’s annual conference - she has got nowhere.
And this Wednesday, Taoiseach Kenny said he was unaware of Ronan’s case - despite committing to a meeting with Noreen last month.
Ronan needs round-the-clock care: like many children with Down’s syndrome, he has a variety of related conditions.
These include asthma, and respiratory conditions, a heart condition, skin conditions, and hypothyroid. Due to all this, he has a lowered immune system, meaning he is vulnerable to infection, especially in the winter months.
“The card meant his medical needs were taken care of. It wasn’t just his medication, but his medication, plus frequent visits to the GP. And it also gave him access to his consultant,” explained Noreen.
After crunch talks with John Hennessy and Paddy Bourke of the HSE, Noreen was offered a Long Term Illness Book, which provides some drugs and treatments free of charge. But she says this is useless to Ronan, because neither Down’s Syndrome or asthma are included.
“I am so angry about this: I feel that children with Down’s syndrome are one of the most vulnerable sections of society, and they are being unduly and unfairly targeted in his probity review,” Noreen said.
As for the effect on her own finances, she adds: “I live in my overdraft. I cannot afford to do repairs around the house.”
Noreen broke up with her partner seven years ago, and has cared for Ronan on her own since.
What confuses her is how when they were a two parent family, that she was eligible for a medical card.
“At the time, my salary was about 30% higher, and I was a lot better off financially. Now, we are one-income family, our costs are a lot higher, and Ronan’s health has deteriorated rather than improved. He ha more conditions - he has greater needs. Where is the discretion? Nobody can tell me,” she said.
And she admitted she would be much better off unemployed, saying: “I sometimes wonder why I work. I always pay my taxes, I have never been unemployed, and I like to contribute to society. If I gave up work, I would get a medical card for him, and myself too. I have neglected my health, and my needs to pay for his.”
Having supported Fine Gael all her life, Noreen said she feels furious with the party in government, claiming she was promised in the run-up to the 2011 General Election that Ronan’s medical card would have been safe if they took office. Instead, the opposite has happened.
“This government does not understand disability, and it certainly does not understand Down’s syndrome. If they did, all children with the condition would be automatically entitled or eligible for a medical card at birth,” she concluded.
The Walk for Ronan gets under way at 11am on Saturday morning, at the PCRS offices in Finglas.
All supporters are welcome.