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An external report into the launch of new social welfare forms by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP) is due to be presented to Minister Regina Doherty in April.
A review of the process to introduce new forms and a closed e-certification process was ordered by the Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection after an outcry among GPs, who were issued new forms last summer without prior notice or consultation.
The changes led to significant delays in illness benefit payments to patients, a huge backlog of work within the Department and some GPs refusing to use the new forms.
As part of the review, which is being conducted by Mr Liam Irwin, a former collector general at the Revenue Commissioners, all stakeholders, including the NAGP, are being consulted for feedback on the process.
NAGP President Dr Maitiu O’Tuathail, who was part of a group of NAGP officials that recently met with the Department as part of the review process, has welcomed the review.
“This external review is welcome,” according to Dr O’Tuathail.
“The Department has much to learn from the shambles that was the introduction of the new forms. Regrettably, the shambles continues with much confusion amongst GPs with regards to the new forms. The lack of communication and engagement with GPs continues to be the biggest problem with the process, and this continues.
“We will continue to fight for payment of photocopies and are regularly engaging with the department to bring this to fruition. We are continuing to take legal cases in tandem with this process, and have a debt collecting agency now working on our members behalf to resolve this.”
Dr O’Tuathail said that because of the confusion among GPs on how to correctly fill out the new forms and the closed certification process, which came into effect at the start of March, the NAGP is calling on the Department to provide greater guidance to GPs.
According to the IMO, who reached a deal with the Department on the new process, closed certification is a new system whereby the GP, following the consultation, assesses the patient in relation to expected duration of absence having regard to the closed certification guidelines, the type of work done by the patient and the illness or injury in question. Once this assessment is made the GP will complete the new form.
The guidelines, the IMO have said, indicate the average duration of absence from work for certain conditions, however, at all times these are to be considered guidelines and the GP may use their clinical judgement.
It is expected that the review report will be presented to Minister Doherty in mid-April after which time it will be published.