The Health Service Executive has said that those who have had their medical card withdrawn following a review will be dealt with as sympathetically as possible.

It said that people who have been refused medical cards will not have the decision overturned following the suspension of the review because it is not legally possible.

However, it said many have since received other supports such as Long Term Illness Cards, GP Visit Cards or support with medicine costs and equipment as required.

Those who are still in the system or who are appealing the refusal of a medical card will have their cover retained.

It says no further reviews will be commenced pending the outcome of the development of the new policy framework by Government.

The HSE is now trying to identify suitable individuals.

Clinical experts will make up an expert panel to identify medical conditions that may automatically entitle a person to a card.

It is not yet known how long that process will take but a HSE spokesperson said, "it is not envisaged that this will be a lengthy process however, neither is it intended to rush the work of the Expert Panel."

The Irish Medical Organisation and Down Syndrome Ireland are among the organisations that today called for all discretionary medical cards revoked in the past two years to be reinstated.

The Jack and Jill Foundation, which provides assistance to families with seriously ill children, insists the medical card battle is far from over.

Jack and Jill Foundation CEO Jonathan Irwin said: "what about the babies who come onto our books next week? They still have to go through this brutal system of means testing their parents before they get their medical card."

He said: "We won't stop this campaign until children with life limiting and life threatening conditions receive their medical card in their own right and automatically, rather than this barbaric system of dragging their parents through means testing.

The Irish Medical Organisation welcomed the Government's decision to suspend the review.

Political reaction

Oireachtas Health Committee Chairman Jerry Buttimer said the system should be more humane. 

Minister of State at the Department of Health Alex White acknowledged that the Government has been slow to address the issue of the removal of medical cards from people in need.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Sean O'Rourke, he said it was fair to criticise the Government and he would take the criticism and whatever responsibility for his part as a junior minister in the department.

Mr White said the HSE was told to apply the rules that medical cards have always been issued on the basis of means and when the rules were applied it exposed the weakness in the system.

He said it showed people can be above the income limit but have a real need.

The minister said it was decided this week to suspend the review and set up an expert panel to look at the types of illnesses that may apply and the extent to which new legislation may be needed.

Mr White also said that there was a real opportunity or chance that many of the medical cards will be restored to people who have lost them.

Reform Alliance TD Denis Naughten has said the new measures are a positive development and help to address some of the issues.

However, he said the structures currently in place for processing these cards is fundamentally flawed.

Speaking on RTÉ’s News At One, he said that the whole idea behind discretionary medical cards was to address the issue of financial hardship due to a medical condition.

Mr Naughten said the system for processing the cards is causing far more hardship to many of the families concerned.

He also said that those who have already lost their card or those who have a diagnosis made over the next few days or weeks are facing a nightmare process.