Patients with arthritis in Mayo are missing hospital appointments because of the cost of travel, according to a campaigner for people with the illness.
A similar problem for people with heart problems was also raised recently in the Dáil by Mayo Independent TD, Dr Jerry Cowley, who said patients were forced to borrow money to get to hospital appointments because they have no other means of transport.
Ms Mary Healy, Chairperson of the Mayo Branch of Arthritis Ireland, said there are 14,500 people with arthritis in Mayo but there is no rheumatology unit in the county where they can be treated. This means that people have to travel to Galway or Dublin for hospital treatment or appointments. However, she said there is a major problem for patients, particularly in remote areas, because of the distance people have to travel.
Now she has received reports that the refusal by the Health Service Executive to pay for transport costs for arthritis patients has resulted in patients not getting care.
“There are people in Belmullet that I know of who cannot get to their appointment because they can’t afford a taxi and they are not able to use public transport,” she said.
One patient who is on a pension has told Ms Healy that taxi drivers are charging €100, one way, to be seen by a specialist in University College Hospital, Galway. Transplant, oncology and dialysis patients are covered for transport costs to UCHG.
Referring to his Dáil question on the matter, Deputy Cowley said he knew of pensioners with no other means of income who have to pay €110 each way from Achill to Galway to have procedures such as having pacemakers checked.
He explained that some patients have to go to the hospital once a month and many are forced to miss appointments because they cannot cover the cost. He called on the Government to provide the necessary funding to the HSE for them to be able to provide the necessary transport.
He said pensioners should get priority treatment because there was no way they could afford the taxi fees they were being forced to pay.
“The difficulty for people in rural areas coming from Erris or Achill is that there is not a transport company that would provide the necessary service. They will have to get off and link up with other buses and some people cannot drive,” he said.
The Mayo Branch of Arthritis Ireland has recently stepped up a campaign to set up a rheumatology unit in Mayo General Hospital but it has been told that it will be at least a year until a rheumatologist might be appointed to Castlebar.
The HSE has said it will apply for funds this year to recruit a consultant next year. Any appointment would have to be approved by the HSE nationally.