July 29th, 2014

HSE clinic sparks anger as only non-nationals get complimentary service

NewsBy Niamh O' Connor
Free G.P bus service for Roma people with no medical cards
Free G.P bus service for Roma people with no medical cards
Outrage: Romas queue up to receive their free medical aid at bus clinic
Outrage: Romas queue up to receive their free medical aid at bus clinic
Angry: Healy-Rae
Angry: Healy-Rae

Irate taxpayers have expressed shock and disbelief that a pilot project is providing a free GP service for people with no medical cards – provided they are Romanian.

A number of hard-pressed families contacted the Sunday World after seeing details of the service at Tallaght Hospital in south Dublin. And independent TD Michael Healy-Rae fumed: “Jesus Christ, who’s paying for it?” 
 
The taxpayer-funded GP clinic on wheels, which opened in September 2012 on a weekly basis, has been so successful it’s set to open for a second day. As our pictures show, business was booming at the free clinic, which has been operating on the grounds of Tallaght Hospital this week.
 
A steady stream of Roma nationals, most dressed in their national folk costume, queued to avail of the free cover. Doctors on the Safetynet Roma Mobile GP Clinic bus treat Roma patients, writing off costs like:
  • €60 to see a GP;
  • €100 charge following treatment in a hospital’s A&E;
  • Medical bills for follow-on treatment. 
Kerry south TD Healy-Rae, who said medical bills are a major concern for his constituents, blasted: “Are you joking me? You can go and get free check-in, admission, medicine, but you have to be Romanian? Are they more important than an Irish person?”
 
Defending the clinic, Zuzana Tesarova, a development worker with South Dublin County Council, accused critics of “racism”, but said that in her opinion it was “criminal that anyone should have to pay €60 for access to a GP, working or not working”.
 
Colourful Healy-Rae refused to accept the racist charge, stating: “I don’t care about being branded anything. What about our travellers? What about Irish people? Should there not be one set up for them too?”
 
Zuzana said: “The reason for the clinic is that there are people in Irish society that have no entitlements for no other reason than their nationality.” Roma gypsies have encountered problems with medical cards because they have no permanent address, she said. 
 
“Romanians are excluded people in this society – excluded from their entitlements,” Zuzana added. But the Dáil deputy reacted with fury, asking: “What about our travellers so?
 
“First of all, I’m shocked. There is discrimination against everybody else. I’ve nothing against the Roma community. I’m not afraid of being branded anything. What about people from Poland? Bangladesh? It’s not just about Irish people. And what about our travellers, do they not deserve this too?”
 
The fact that many of the Roma gypsies were dropped off, and later collected in cars, was not indicative of the suffering the ethnic community endures in Ireland, according to integration worker Zuzana. 
 
She said: “Families have children in school and yet are not allowed child benefits. Children born here feel Irish, but they’re segregated. Bureaucracy and “bad policies” are a big issue in the Irish state, she said. 
 
“If you are a settled, white, middle-class woman, you can prove your address by showing a bank account, but if you are from a travelling culture, without a bank account, you cannot prove it.”
 
This has a knock-on effect for habitual residency applications. 
 
“I have a colleague who has lived in Ireland 10 years and is a member of the Advisory Committee for Residence to the justice minister Alan Shatter, who has had terrible problems,” Zuzana said.
 
Without their paperwork, applicants become ineligible for rent allowance, and unable to apply for local authority housing.  And Zuzana said that Ireland’s poor public transport system was another reason that the clinic had to be opened.
 
An Irish mother who works full-time and is struggling to make ends meet told the Sunday World: “I can’t take my kids to the GP when they’re sick because of the cost. It’s very hard to see another nationality being dropped off in cars and getting free cover when my kids have to go sick.”
 
The woman, who did not want to be named out of fear of being labelled a “racist” said it was another example of the two-tier society that has resulted from the benefit state.
 
“Working people are being screwed,” she said.
 
The Roma health bus also assists the Simon community, Order of Malta, and the Safetynet Primary Care network, which provides healthcare to homeless people. Flyers have been circulated to GPs’ surgeries telling Romanians how and where to avail of free medical treatment. 
 
Zuzana said the service was saving Irish taxpayers money because previously they turned up in A&E in Tallaght, costing more to deal with in the long run. She added that the clinic was not the perfect solution to the problem because “in a 21st century civilised Western society, we should not need a segregated service for one ethnic group”.
 
Zuzana said the clinic had not experienced racist abuse from people in Tallaght hospital, but admitted that the prospect of it occurring was a fear. The HSE said the project costs in the region of €23,000 and was being funded by the HSE inclusion department, and is the second such service provided as a similar service was provided for travellers.
 
“In its pilot phase the service welcomed more than 100 members of the Roma community who would previously have had no access to Primary Medical Services. The Roma have actively engaged both with the GP service in seeking appropriate medical care for themselves and their children and also with the volunteers in gaining an understanding of how to maintain their health.”
 
The clinic is held one afternoon per week in the grounds of Tallaght Hospital and is staffed by a Safetynet GP, a Romanian Interpreter and a trained Roma Cultural Mediator. The HSE said it was hoped that attendance at the clinic would result in a reduction in the use of A&E at Tallaght Hospital by the Romas.