Vaccine launch: Sarah Kennedy, infection control, UHL, and Eimear O'Donovan, assistant director of nursing
A NUMBER of GPs in Limerick are charging pensioners with medical cards for the flu vaccine, an injection that has been made free of charge by the Health Service Executive following years of severe outbreaks.
That is according to Deputy Maurice Quinlivan, who raised the issue in Dáil Éireann after he was approached by a concerned pensioner.
Figures received by the Leader from the HSE show that, during the last major flu outbreak in the Mid-West between December and February, there were 407 detections, nine of which were fatal cases.
The Sinn Féin TD said that “this was not an isolated incident” after checking with a number of pensioners in his constituency.
“I understand that a number of GPs in Limerick have been charging their patients. This is totally unacceptable that a medical practitioner is charging people with medical cards and those aged over 70 for the flu jab, which they are entitled to for free.
“It is vitally important for people to get this jab, this year in particular, as medical experts are predicting a strong flu outbreak based on a surge in cases in Australia and New Zealand during the southern hemisphere winter,” he told the Leader this week.
Responding to his parliamentary question, Minister for Health Simon Harris said that the HSE provides the flu vaccine free of charge for all those in “at-risk groups”.
At-risk groups include those over 65, people with long-term chronic illnesses, pregnant women, residents of nursing homes or long-stay facilities, and some hospital staff.
He said that the vaccine and consultation are free for those with a medical card or a GP visit card, and that those without these cards will be charged a consultation fee.
Deputy Quinlivan added: “I would encourage people to get the vaccine to protect them against the flu this winter and urge people to get in contact with me if they are charged for it when they should not be. Money should not become an obstacle for ensuring people are vaccinated against the flu.”
A spokesperson for the HSE said that the flu season runs from week 40 in October to week 20 in May.
Deputy Quinlivan’s concerns come as healthcare staff across the Mid-West prepare for a major vaccination programme to protect patients from the flu this winter.
This Wednesday, the UL Hospitals Group and the HSE Mid-West community healthcare joined forces to launch a campaign aimed at vaccinating thousands of healthcare workers in Limerick, Clare and North Tipperary.
UL Hospitals’ CEO, Prof Colette Cowan said that the vaccine is “safe, effective and it can’t give you the flu, a myth that has remained stubbornly difficult to explode even among healthcare workers.
“Even if you are showing no symptoms, you may be carrying the flu and you are capable of passing it on to those more vulnerable than you for whom flu can be a very serious condition, sometimes fatal.”
Chief officer of Mid-West Community Healthcare, Bernard Gloster said that “the flu vaccine protects you, patients, your family and our service users”.