Dáil debates

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Other Questions

Defence Forces Medical Service.

2:00 pm

Photo of Seymour CrawfordSeymour Crawford (Cavan-Monaghan, Fine Gael)
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Question 8: To ask the Minister for Defence the percentage of members of the Permanent Defence Force by rank and brigade or formation who had an annual medical examination in each of the years from 2002 to 2007, inclusive; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13510/08]

Photo of Paul KehoePaul Kehoe (Wexford, Fine Gael)
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Question 19: To ask the Minister for Defence the number of members of the Permanent Defence Force who have not had an annual medical examination for one, two and three years from 31 December 2007 retrospectively; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13511/08]

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State (Government Chief Whip), Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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I propose to take Questions Nos. 8 and 19 together.

All members of the Permanent Defence Force are required to undergo an annual medical examination. In 2007, a total of 8,111 annual medical examinations were conducted with a shortfall of 2,323. The figures in respect of earlier years are being collated and will be provided to the Deputies as soon as they are available.

The shortage of medical officers in the Medical Corps was the principal reason that not every member of the Defence Forces underwent a medical examination in the years in question. Due to operational constraints, personnel sometimes are not available to attend for examination at the scheduled times. Personnel due to serve overseas, those wishing to extend service and recruits and cadets at initial grading are among those prioritised for medical examination.

The services of civilian medical practitioners are used to provide back-up to the Medical Corps to ensure the primary health care requirements of the Defence Forces are met. Annual medical examinations are part of the occupational medical service of the Defence Forces and the preference is, therefore, that they be conducted by serving medical officers.

The challenges facing the Medical Corps have been recognised for some time and a review of the provision of medical services is ongoing as part of the modernisation agenda for the Defence Forces. The representative associations are involved with the Department in this review. The scope of the review includes the level of service to be provided to members of the Defence Forces and the resources required for the delivery of that service.

Given the ongoing issues and mindful of the need to make progress in this area, it has been decided to engage consultants to make recommendations on the best means of meeting the medical requirements of the Defence Forces. The process of engaging the consultants is under way.

Photo of Jimmy DeenihanJimmy Deenihan (Kerry North, Fine Gael)
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Does the Minister of State believe the Defence Forces have the capability to provide all their personnel with an annual medical examination at present? It is a simple question. Obviously, there is a difficulty if more than 2,000 personnel did not undergo a medical examination. The Minister of State will agree the health of the organisation is paramount and that each member of the Defence Forces should undergo a medical check-up every year. People tend to be reluctant to undergo medical check-ups, especially the male element of the Defence Forces. It is important that such check-ups should be both available and obligatory on an annual basis.

It also is highly important for the Defence Forces to monitor the health and fitness levels of their personnel at all times. Is a general medical report on the health status of the Defence Forces issued on an annual basis?

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State (Government Chief Whip), Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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The introduction of consultants to consider the matter indicates the present position must be improved. It constitutes an indication that something must be done. However, sick soldiers receive the requisite care and the services of civilian medical practitioners are used to back up the Medical Corps to ensure the primary health care requirements arising in barracks are met. One must acknowledge there is a recruitment problem.

More importantly, the major improvements in pay that were introduced recently have not resulted in significant recruitment. These issues must be addressed. The Medical Corps is not immune to the wider challenges that exist in the medical field. Non-Irish national doctors have been employed in the health sector and it is no longer unusual. Similarly, in the Defence Forces, suitably qualified doctors have served and continue to serve. Every effort is being made to deal with the issue and there is a fundamental need to do so. That is the reason the consultancy is being carried out. I will keep the House abreast of developments in this regard.

Photo of Joe CostelloJoe Costello (Dublin Central, Labour)
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Question 10: To ask the Minister for Defence the manner in which a doctor convicted of fraud in another jurisdiction was recruited to, and worked in, the Defence Forces; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [13547/08]

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State (Government Chief Whip), Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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The doctor in question was appointed as a medical officer in the Permanent Defence Force on a short service commission of 12 months on 1 May 2007 after undergoing the standard recruitment process for doctors. This included an interview by the Defence Forces, a medical examination by the Defence Forces, security clearance by the Garda Síochána and registration validation with the Irish Medical Council by the Defence Forces.

The doctor satisfactorily provided all documentation requested and was found suitable at interview. All applicants to the Defence Forces must be security cleared by the Garda Síochána prior to appointment. The normal procedure for obtaining security clearance for all applicants to the Permanent Defence Force was applied in the case of the recruitment of the individual concerned. At the time of appointment of that individual, no adverse information was made available to the Department that would render the individual unsuitable for appointment.

Subsequently, in July 2007 and following contact between my Department and the Garda National Immigration Bureau, difficulties with both registration and the application for employment in the Defence Forces came to light. The military authorities conducted an investigation into these matters and, based on this investigation, the Government decided to recommend to the President that the doctor be dismissed from the Defence Forces. The President dismissed the doctor pursuant to section 50 of the Defence Act 1954 on 26 February 2008.

I stress that the doctor in question was fully qualified to hold the position from a medical perspective and there is no question regarding the professional qualification and experience of the doctor. There are no concerns regarding the quality of medical care provided by the doctor. I am assured that arising from this case, changes have been made to recruitment and checking processes to ensure that a similar situation will not arise in future.

Photo of Brian O'SheaBrian O'Shea (Waterford, Labour)
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I thank the Minister of State for his reply. He should clarify whether the person in question was lawfully in the country in the first place. This doctor was also registered with the Irish Medical Council. I find it disconcerting that the two main security arms of the State failed to address this issue expeditiously. This appointment should not have been made in the first place. A conviction was secured for corruption and the question of whether the person was lawfully in the State needs to be clarified. It makes me wonder whether communication takes place between the arms of the State in this area. If an issue such as this can arise it must be asked what else is happening. I am aware the Minister of State will respond in the context of the Defence Forces, but the intelligence wing of the Defence Forces is also an important element in the security of this State.

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State (Government Chief Whip), Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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I acknowledge that lessons must be learnt from this matter. The person did not have permission to enter the State and Deputy O'Shea made a valid point about the need for Departments to co-operate more closely and on improvements to checking systems. It is important we apply that principle in the future through the use of modern information technology.

This person was working in a hospital in Dublin, in which regard I stress that no issues have arisen over professional qualifications or the quality of care the person administered. The normal security checks were completed. When documentation on renewing the person's work permit for possible overseas services were processed, issues emerged and contact was made with the Garda National Immigration Bureau.

The bottom line is that lessons have to be learnt and better communication is needed between the various arms of the State. I assure the Deputy that will be the result of this case.

Photo of Brian O'SheaBrian O'Shea (Waterford, Labour)
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What exactly has been done since this matter came to light in the context of better co-ordination in the scrutiny of people who may hold criminal records or who are unlawfully in the State?

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State (Government Chief Whip), Department of An Taoiseach; Minister of State, Department of Defence; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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A complete review of the recruitment and checking processes has been undertaken for all applicants. The review took account of this case as well as improvements that have been implemented elsewhere in the public service, including requirements on applicants to supply additional information on their histories and improvements in the security clearance process. Following discussions between officials from my Department, the Garda Síochána and the GNIB, security clearance procedures for all applicants for positions in the Defence Forces have been reviewed and a process has been put in place whereby gardaí will check with the GNIB on applicants' immigration status as part of the security clearance process.

Lessons have been learnt and the system has improved. Thankfully, the professional qualifications of the doctor in question are accepted as authentic and in all professional respects the individual was a suitable candidate to be commissioned as a medical officer.