Written answers

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Department of Health and Children

Medical Cards

12:00 pm

Photo of Richard BrutonRichard Bruton (Dublin North Central, Fine Gael)
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Question 174: To ask the Minister for Health and Children if she has received a report from the Health Service Executive on turnaround times on fresh applications for the medical card, renewal of medical card cover where there has been a change of circumstances, and online renewal of medical cards where there has been no change in circumstances in respect of the new centralised processing facility for the Dublin area; and if she will issue a directive that, where any application for renewal is waiting over eight weeks, an extension of cover of three months would be automatically granted to prevent gaps in cover and anxiety about being without cover. [44410/09]

Photo of Mary HarneyMary Harney (Dublin Mid West, Independent)
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Up to the start of this year, medical card and GP visit card applications were processed in the Health Service Executive's (HSE's) 32 local health areas.

Under the HSE's 2009 Service Plan, the processing of all medical card and GP visit card applications will transfer to the HSE's Primary Care Reimbursement Service (PCRS) in Dublin. The initial phase of the centralisation process commenced in January 2009 with the PCRS processing all medical card applications for persons aged 70 or over. The second phase commenced in September 2009 with the transfer of the case load from two local health offices in Dublin City to the PCRS. The phased implementation will allow the situation to be continuously monitored and, if required, modified to address any issues arising. The PCRS has processed over 55,000 medical card applications since the start of 2009.

The HSE has informed my Department that the transfer of the case load from the two local health offices included a backlog of some 6,500 open cases which are being dealt with as a matter of urgency by the PCRS, and as a result, resources which would have been deployed in customer relations and phone answering have been assigned to deal with this backlog. The HSE is arranging that additional resources are deployed to respond to phone queries, the majority of which relate to the outstanding applications.

The Executive has advised my Department that there are no plans to close any of the local health offices and these offices will continue to deal with queries of a general nature about the medical card scheme and will provide any assistance needed with the application process. The HSE has recently put in place a national on-line system to allow local health offices track the current status of applications in the PCRS.

The centralising of the medical card application process is facilitating a number of enhancements to the level of customer service associated with these applications. The HSE has indicated that a facility will shortly be available where a person can view the status of their medical card application on-line and if a mobile phone number is supplied with an application, updates by text message will be delivered to the applicant's phone.

I fully support the HSE's decision to centralise the medical card and GP visit card application and review process to one location. The HSE has advised that when fully implemented, this measure will ensure:

Improved turnaround time for the processing of applications (Under the new arrangements, the Executive will be aiming for a turnaround time of 15 days or less for all medical card applications. Emergency applications will be dealt with immediately with a card issuing within 24 hours);

Equitable application of eligibility across the country;

Consistency of service provision to customers;

Clearer lines of governance and accountability; and

Improved unified data.

My Department is currently in discussion with the HSE about putting in place a dedicated telephone number for Oireachtas members for enquiries about applications being processed by the PCRS.

The HSE has also indicated that this project, while realising health sector efficiencies and savings, will not have an adverse affect on patient care or the quality of service provided. Applications from people whose income exceeds the income guidelines but have a case to be considered on medical or hardship grounds will also be processed by the PCRS.

This project is an example of the type of innovation signalled in the Transforming Public Services Programme announced by the Taoiseach in November 2008. It demonstrates how improved services can be delivered within the more limited resources available in a way which meets the needs of citizens in a modern society.


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