Tullamore resident and mother-of-three Sandra Gorman is one of thousands around the country who have been left without a medical card as her renewal application is processed.
Speaking to the Offaly Independent this week she said the ordeal surrounding her medical card renewal has been going on since November 2010, and both she and her children Caroline (18), James (15) and Ian (8) are going without proper medical care in its absence as she simply can't afford doctor and medication fees.
"Two weeks ago I put my back out," Sandra said. "I've been in agony but I can't afford to go to the doctor." Her teenage soccer-mad son has also been affected. "James had to cut back on his sports," she explained. "He's got asthma and he's got no inhalers."
Eighteen-year-old daughter Caroline is on medication she can't be without, but as her medical card application won't be processed until her mother's she's also left in the lurch. Eight-year-old Ian got a chest infection over Christmas, and Sandra said he's still missing school as a result because a cough bottle failed to clear it up and she can't afford a doctor's visit and the antibiotics she might be told to get as a result. "I don't have €50 to go to the doctor and pay out to be seen and on top of it get a prescription for medication," she said.
Local councillors have been inundated with calls about medical card wait times. Sandra's situation is a case in point. According to Sandra she received her renewal forms and sent them back in November 2010.
After waiting months she was told by her doctor her medical card had expired, and after getting in touch with the HSE regarding her card was told her forms were never received. Sandra said she sent in a new application last August, and additional information that was requested in October. She thought the issue would be sorted and she'd have her new medical card by Christmas, but December came and went with no medical card being issued.
Numerous phone calls have brought no further joy. "We're still no further on," Sandra said. Just yesterday (Thursday) Sandra called to check the progress of her application and was told it had gone to a final stage and should be ready within three weeks, but that she should get back in touch if this turned out not to be the case. "They couldn't give me a definite anything," she said. "I'm so frustrated."
Fellow Tullamore resident Geraldine is also awaiting news. A chronic asthmatic with high blood pressure, Geraldine applied for her first medical card last August when she was diagnosed with sleep aponea.
She too was asked to supply additional information, which she did in September.
Now she said she sometimes has to "shortcut" herself on medication because of her medicine bills while waiting for a medical card.
"One lot of my blood pressure tablets alone are €80," she said. Every night because of her sleep apnea she wears a machine to bed that kicks in if she stops breathing. "If I had to buy the machine I think it'd be €1,300," she said. "If I don't get the medical card I don't know how I'm going to pay for it."
Geraldine knows her application number off by heart, and calls twice a week to enquire on the progress of her medical card application. On her latest call she was told they hope it won't take too much longer, but nothing more definite than that.
Tullamore town councillor Brendan Killeavy knows the extent of the problem, as he's constantly contacted by locals frustrated at the length of time they've been waiting.
He said these delays are not fair. "I've known people who are going without medication because of the backlogs," he said. "We're talking about people who are very ill being left with a medical card. They find themselves in an awkward situation where they can't afford their medication."
The councillor said he's looking to fellow Sinn Fein party member and TD Brian Stanley, who plans to lobby the Health Minister on the issue.
Cllr Killeavy himself said he also plans to put forward a motion at the next Tullamore town council meeting looking for Minister Reailly to take action on the issue quickly.