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GPs accuse Dept of 'using vulnerable patients as fodder' in row over illness benefit forms

The Department of Social Protection has accused GPs of delaying the payouts of illness benefits.

Image: Shutterstock/Vitali Michkou

THE NATIONAL ASSOCIATION of General Practitioners has accused the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection of “manufacturing” the delays in paying out some illness benefits to get GPs to use the new benefit forms issued by the Department. 

As previously reported by TheJournal.ie, people who receive an illness benefit from the State have been waiting weeks for payments which the Department said was down to GPs continuing to use old medical claim forms despite a system change over at the start of the month.

The NAGP issued a statement earlier today to say that it was with grave concern it learned of the Department of Social Protection’s (DSP) statement yesterday which suggested that GPs were to blame. 

“The Department is stating that the delays in payments are due to GPs refusing to use the new forms. They are claiming that this is causing significant delays to our processing time”

“This is merely a tactic to bully GPs into changing work practice without mediation or negotiation. The Department is now attempting to use the public to strong-arm General Practice into submission.”

The DSP recently introduced a new claim form (IB1) and a new medical certificate (MED1) to replace the previous MC1 and MC2 forms for certification of the Department’s illness and injury benefit schemes.

It warned that payment delays will likely continue where old forms are used for certification.

Chris Goodey, CEO of the NAGP told TheJournal.ie that he believed the department is “trying to delay payments to patients and using patients, vulnerable patients as fodder” to get GPs to use the new forms.

“I don’t know of any other profession where someone would say ok we’re changing everything now, no training no nothing and giving you four days notice without any negotiation or conversation whatsoever.

It does not make any sense whatsoever. These are manufactured delays.

The NAGP has sad that on 17 August it received written agreement from the Department confirming entry into a process of mediation in order to iron out concerns in relation to the implementation and processes of the new illness certification forms.

It says the DSP withdrew their agreement to mediate without notice or reason. 

Dr Stephen Murphy told TheJournal.ie that he first aware of the form changeover when he received the new forms in the post at the end of July.

“I’ve personally met with the Department twice, they had given us undertakings that they would accept old forms on an ongoing basis.

“I was there when the negotiator from the Department came out and we met and we went through all this, and the old forms were fine.

“They even said they would accept headed paper from GPs,” he said. 

Murphy said that he does not understand why they cannot use the old system which “they promised they would” and that the statement they issued yesterday was a complete “180-degree turnaround from what they had said to us face to face not two weeks ago”.

 Data Protection 

Chris Goodey said that one of the main objections the association has with the new forms is the volume of additional patient information that is required to be given. 

“The NAGP has not received confirmation from the Department as to who is classified as the Data Controller or who is the Data Processor.

“The NAGP were told that the software that the Department of Social Protection is planning to use had been funded by the HSE.

He continued that the association has “serious reservations about data capture, data control and where the data will eventually end up”.

The NAGP have asked the relevant and pertinent questions to which we have yet to receive satisfactory answers.

Goodey says that GPs are not in breach of their contract as they are still providing the older forms to patients who require them.

“If the Department is not willing to engage, GPs around the country may have no alternative but to individually decide to withdraw from their contract with the Department,” Goodey said. 

‘Working very efficiently’

The Department said today that new system is “working very efficiently for GPs already using the new forms and their patients – our customers – are being paid their illness and injury benefits without delay”.  

It added that it would not be in a position to accept old forms indefinitely as they are “not compatible with the new system and each requires significant manual inputting into the Department’s payment systems.

“This requires the Department to manage two parallel processes in order to continue to pay customers their benefits and is not sustainable.”

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Adam Daly

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