Limerick woman writes to Minister to clarify cuts to breast cancer supports

'Disgraceful gender-based attack on a very vulnerable group' – Niall Collins

Donal O'Regan

Reporter:

Donal O'Regan

Limerick woman writes to Minister to clarify cuts to breast cancer supports

Valerie Murphy, of Valerie’s Breast Care, with customer Mary Lynch Picture: Michael Cowhey

A LIMERICK woman has called on Minister for Health Simon Harris to clarify the policy on cuts of supports to breast cancer patients “once and for all”.

Valerie Murphy, a specialist in prostheses and support wear for breast cancer patients, based in Askeaton, says the confusion has caused a lot of “stress and worry”.

“It is very callous. I have had women calling me that are so upset over this. I am very nervous about what is going to happen,” said Valerie. 

It began last week when the HSE sent an email stating that as from July 1 there was a new allowance in place of €68.50 every two years.

“The value a woman with a medical card would have got ranges from €100 to €300 per year and it is reduced to €34.25. They are allowed a breast prosthesis every two years and two surgical bras every year. The cost of a breast prosthesis starts at €150 and can be over €200. It is approximately €50 for a surgical bra,” said Valerie. Changes were also made to the provision of wigs or hairpieces to patients. 

After the story hit the national media, Minister Harris said on Monday that the HSE had no authority to make a policy decision to cut the supports of women who had breast cancer surgery. 

He said he was extraordinarily angry and “a bit disgusted” at the HSE’s decision to reduce the allowance to women who have had a mastectomy and need a prosthesis and other clothing supports. Minister Harris said he made it clear to the HSE in the “bluntest terms” there should be no reduction in service.

However, on the following day [Tuesday], Valerie said she spoke to five HSE offices in different counties.

“Four out of the five received an HSE email stating that the decision on the new policy is deferred until August. Some of the offices stated that they are only accepting applications for mastectomy products up until the end of July or until they have further instruction. This is very worrying as it contradicts what Simon Harris said on Monday. He stated that there would be a stop on the move,” said Valerie.

She wrote to the Minister this Tuesday and asked: “Both breast cancer survivors and those of us in the business are very stressed with this whole situation. Can you please clarify if the move has been stopped or has it been deferred until August?”

Valerie said there are huge ramifications if the cuts as originally proposed do go ahead. For €34.25 women wouldn’t even bother buying the stamp and sending off the paperwork, she said

“I, along with many other mastectomy fitters, will not be able to keep my service going if these changes occur. This will result in women having to go to the breast cancer clinics, to nurses who are overworked already.

“I provide a visiting service to many of these women as they are elderly or immobile. It will cost the government a whole lot more if women have to be sent to the hospital in taxis or have a nurse visit. Hospitals are overcrowded as it is

“Mastectomy fitters are specially trained to do this job. If a woman is not properly fitted then it can result in back pain, neck pain and shoulder drop. Should a woman experience these problems she will have to visit a GP or hospital. Another drain on the HSE if this policy is sanctioned. 

“We are experts in what products to use. We are saving the health service money in the long run. These drastic changes were not thought through at all,” said Valerie in her contact with Minister Harris. 

She trained for a year in America where patients are entitled to six bras every year regardless of whether they have a medical card equivalent or not.

She has set up a petition which has garnered over 1,000 signatures in two days and is can be signed at ipetitions.com One woman wrote: “It is awful to make a woman pay for something that can make them feel like a woman again”.

“A lot of the comments refer to self confidence and self esteem and how they feel when they get their new surgical bras and that they look well,” said Valerie, who has been in touch with colleagues around the country to form a group that will ask to meet Minister Harris to resolve the issue.

Deputy Niall Collins said the controversy has caused a lot of distress.

“It is a disgraceful gender-based attack on a very vulnerable group of people in our community. There was absolutely no consultation - it came out of the blue. It has caused a lot of distress and anger. The cost of this hugely important service in the context of the over all HSE budget is negligible,” said Deputy Collins. The HSE had not replied to a media query at the time of going to press.