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Written Answers - Medical Cards

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 760 No. 3

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 658.  Deputy Bernard J. Durkan Information on Bernard Durkan Zoom on Bernard Durkan  asked the Minister for Health Information on James Reilly Zoom on James Reilly  if he has in mind any proposals to reduce the waiting period for medical cards; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [16981/12]

Minister of State at the Department of Health (Deputy Róisín Shortall): Information on Róisín Shortall Zoom on Róisín Shortall As Deputies are aware a number of difficulties arose with the processing of medical cards in the final quarter of last year. These difficulties gave rise to a very large backlog and long delays for both new applicants and medical card renewals. A separate significant backlog also arose in respect of medical card appeals.

Reviews of the problems have identified a number of factors as to how these problems arose, including:

the decision by the HSE to fully centralise the processing of medical cards before the centralised service was fully resourced,

a significant backlog that already existed prior to centralisation,

poor communication with medical card applicants and the public, limited support from local health offices and poor communication between local offices and the centralised service,

and poor administrative and customer service practices and procedures in the handling, filing and processing of medical card documentation.

These issues are a matter of serious concern to me and I have had a number of meetings with the HSE over the last number of months to raise my concerns. The HSE has introduced a number of changes in recent months to the administration of the medical card application system.

These include:

increased staffing levels in the centralised processing service and in respect of medical card appeals,

improvements to how medical card renewals are assessed and the frequency by which they are assessed,

increased flexibility for GPs to add certain categories of patients to their GMS list,

the fast-tracking of backlogged cases, and cases where documentation has been misfiled.

[973]A number of additional changes will be implemented by the HSE in the coming months. I am particularly keen to see changes to how medical card renewals in respect of people with permanent disability are assessed. I am in discussions with the HSE on this and other matters and would expect changes to be implemented soon.

While a number of customer service and communication issues remain to be addressed, the HSE has nevertheless been making good progress in eliminating the backlog and preventing further backlogs occurring. The HSE has reported to me that 96% of completed applications received in late-February/early-March have been processed within 15 days, compared to a turnaround target of 90% in its 2012 National Service Plan. The HSE has also reported to me that the backlog in processing 2011 applications has been reduced by 77% since January. As of yesterday evening, the backlog in respect of medical card applications and renewals had been further reduced to 10,770 (down from 57,962 in January) and in the vast majority of these cases, additional information is awaited from the applicant. The backlog in respect of medical card appeals has been reduced to 569 or less than half of what it was in January. The HSE is on course to clear both of these backlogs by the end of the month.

Finally, a review of medical card processing has been undertaken by PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) on behalf of the HSE which contains a number of recommendations that the HSE is considering.

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