Some GPs want paid by patients to fill out postal voting forms
Some family doctors have been demanding fees in return for filling out postal vote application forms, it has emerged.
GPs are already paid for providing information on Disability Living Allowance (DLA) claims and on people suffering from terminal illness.
They receive £33.50 for each DLA or new welfare reform form, and £20 in cases where a patient is terminally ill.
But former minister Michelle Gildernew revealed yesterday that there had been reports of GPs also wanting payment for postal voter forms.
The MLA, now deputy chair of the Stormont committee monitoring the Department for Communities, said: "You could not be up to them sometimes."
Her Sinn Fein colleague Fra McCann said it was crucial for people to understand how much providing information on benefits costs, "including the fees that are being paid".
But a spokesman for the British Medical Association in Northern Ireland highlighted: "GPs are not obliged to provide these reports as part of their terms of service, which is why they attract a fee."
Dr Tom Black, chair of BMA Northern Ireland's General Practitioners Committee, added: "The majority of reports are provided free by GPs as part of their terms of service.
"GPs want to focus on the clinical care of their patients, and one of the best ways to do this is by limiting paperwork and bureaucracy.
"Northern Ireland has the lowest number of GPs per head of the population out of the four countries in the UK, along with the highest clinical workload.
"As a result, we now have a severe workload and workforce crisis, which means that GPs now face having less time to spend on the one-on-one clinical care of their patients."
Dr Black claimed that to ensure patients continued to receive high-quality care, GPs rightly prioritised clinical needs over the filling in of forms.
"Some GPs try to limit unnecessary paperwork by charging a fee for it, and that is a decision for their practice to make," he explained.
"My advice would be to simply decline to do unnecessary paperwork and focus their time on clinical care. The majority of reports are provided free by GPs as part of their terms of service. A minority of reports, such as DLA, attract a fee, and that is the contract arrangements at present.
Mr McCann said: "Sometimes, there is a fractured relationship between the department and doctors and doctors and their patients in the provision of updated information, and doctors are seeking compensation for providing that.
"Sometimes, patients feel the need to run and ask for these reports because they believe that their appeal is not going to get heard if a report has not been provided. It is just about the information supply."
A spokesperson for the Department for Communities said: "There is a contractual obligation on any GP who has issued a Med3 (fit note) to provide medical reports free of charge to the Department for Communities in relation to Employment and Support Allowance on a form called an ESA113.
"In other benefits, such as Disability Living Allowance or Personal Independence Payments, where the Department for Communities or their medical assessment provider requests a report from a GP, a payment of £33.50 is made whenever the report is returned. The same arrangement applies across Great Britain.
"Where a GP has completed a report to confirm the details of terminal illness for benefit purposes, a payment of £20 is made."