HSE funding changes for breast cancer survivors 'slipped in under radar'
Thousands of breast cancer survivors face financial hardship and stress following a HSE decision to cut vital support.
Under the new scheme women will now only be provided with an allowance of €68.50 for one breast prosthesis every two years.
However, a prosthesis can cost between €110 and €200, two major suppliers warned last night.
Women will no longer be provided with surgical bras, other than those supplied when they are leaving hospital.
It follows the decision to ration the supply of post-mastectomy bras and prosthetics - in order to extend the service countrywide.
The unpopular changes were due to come into effect today, but last night the Health Service Executive (HSE) was forced to postpone the introduction for a month.
The HSE attempted to defend the overhaul, saying that the new scheme would give every woman in the country the same service.
It also said it will end the problem of some health areas having limited or no support, adding: "The policies were introduced to ensure standard guidelines and equal and consistent access based on a patient's need and not their geographic location."
A spokeswoman said: "The new policy now extends access on an ongoing basis to all women for post-mastectomy products. Previously these products were only accessible to medical card holders."
However, Marybeth Shiell, who runs the Everywoman service at Murray's Pharmacy in Talbot Street, Dublin, said: "This seems to have blindsided everyone."
Kate Conway, who runs the Bravelle service in Ballyneety in Limerick, said the special bras can cost on average €50 to €60.
She called on Health Minister Simon Harris to intervene, and said it appeared that the changes were "slipped in under the radar".
Dr Janice Walshe, a medical oncologist at St Vincent's Hospital, Dublin, said: "While a diagnosis of breast cancer is difficult, the knowledge that a mastectomy is needed rather than a lumpectomy is doubly devastating.
"Patients will often suffer low self-esteem due to altered body image, so the importance for a woman to have a proper, well-fitting good prosthesis cannot be overstated.
"Personally, I think it is inconceivable to think that women may not be wearing an essential garment due to inability to pay."
Previously, women in several areas were entitled to two surgical bras to hold the prosthesis in place.
If the woman had a medical card, she may then have been fitted and supplied with two surgical bras every year and a new breast prosthesis every two years.