Belfast Telegraph

Medical card waiting time slashed

The waiting time for medical card applications is being slashed from 16 weeks to 15 days, Health Minister Mary Harney has said.

GPs have complained about some patients waiting several months to renew or receive a medical card since the system was centralised for over-70s to the HSE's Dublin office last January.

But Ms Harney insisted a number of changes were speeding up the application process and helping the service run more smoothly.

In a letter to Oireachtas Health Committee chairman Sean O'Fearghail, the minister said a new website and telephone system providing customer information had been put in place, along with a new review process for card-holders over the age of 70.

The committee heard HSE local health offices now have full access to the national database on medical cards, allowing them to track the status of current applications, while doctors can now access weekly updates of applications.

Ms Harney also said staff would have more time and resources to meet frontline needs.

Mr O'Fearghail welcomed the improvements but said the situation would be monitored to make sure the changes were maintained. "Medical cards are an essential component of many people's lives and any delay or unavailability of this vital resource is just not good enough," he added.

"There was real dissatisfaction from committee members regarding the way the centralisation of medical card applications for over-70s had been handled and the committee was extremely anxious that the problems were ironed out before plans to centralise all applications are introduced later this year."

Under the HSE's Service Plan for 2009, it was agreed that the processing of all medical card applications would be centralised to the executive's Primary Care Reimbursement Service in Finglas, north Dublin.

This process began last January when all applications for over-70s were centralised. The central office has issued 121,468 medical cards since then.

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