The Department of Social Protection has said it will launch a recruitment drive for medical assessors next year after a report by the State’s finance watchdog outlined how it struggled to hire and retain personnel in the roles.
The Comptroller and Auditor General’s (C&AG) annual report outlined a rate of overpayment in some social welfare benefits that could be linked to a shortage of medical assessors, who could deem whether a recipient of the money had become ‘medically ineligible’ or not.
The report said it was “an ongoing challenge for the department to maintain current numbers of medical assessors and it is proving extremely difficult to recruit and retain replacement or additional medical assessors”.
It had also highlighted potential levels of overpayment of close to €2m a week for illness benefit and the invalidity pension.
A spokesperson for the department said: “A further recruitment competition will be held in 2016. Furthermore, the department is in the process of seeking tenders from external agencies for the supply of suitably qualified medical assessors [doctors and nurses] on an ‘as required’ basis.
“It is hoped that a contract for such services will be in place in the first quarter of 2016.”
The C&AG report suggested that while some people fraudulently claimed benefits, such cases were relatively uncommon and it was more likely their medical situation had changed and improved over time, meaning they no longer met the criteria for the payment.
The department said that, in a bid to enhance its medical control procedures, it has also undertaken a number of initiatives aimed at the medical profession — mainly general practitioners — through bodies such as the Irish Medical Organisation and the Irish College of General Practitioners.
“These are in the areas of guideline provision and education about the department’s schemes and their conditionality,” said a department spokesperson.
The spokesperson also said the department was continuing work on its compliance and anti-fraud measures and that both the invalidity pension and the illness benefit payments were seen as low-risk areas for fraud, with an effective control policy centred on periodic medical reviews.
“In relation to the capacity to carry out medical reviews it should be noted that in the case of illness benefit, each payment is supported by weekly or monthly certification by a qualified medical doctor,” the spokesperson said.
“In the case of invalidity pension, there is a significant medical eligibility test prior to awarding the payment as it is considered a long-term medical payment.”
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