Letters from Ireland #6

I didn’t know much at all about the Irish healthcare system until this week, but given the context of my visit (my father has cancer, he’s in hospital) I know a bit more now and it’s not reassuring. Health care is free if you have a medical card (which is means-tested), and after the age of 70. Otherwise you have to pay – for example a visit to a GP is about 50 or 60 euros – or claim on your health insurance, if you’re lucky enough to have it. The means-testing kicks in at a relatively low level; I’m told that a household on €300 or so a week wouldn’t be eligible for a medical card. So of course, people put off going to see their doctor until it’s absolutely necessary. I’m told this is especially common for people in their late 60s.

I can see that charging for GP appointments means that more money is available to fund other parts of the healthcare system, and that it would also prevent time-wasting, i.e. people booking to see their GP every time they have a little twinge or sniffle. But then I look at my father’s situation – he’s 68 now, he should have gone to the doctor when he first had symptoms more than 18 months ago. OK, he actually qualifies for a medical card, so wouldn’t have had to pay – but he still had to be virtually dragged along to the GP because that’s what men (in particular) are like. If there had been the added disincentive on top of that, of having to pay €50 or €60 for the visit, would he have gone when he did, or left it even longer?

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