GP practice earns €83,000 in year for issuing sick certs
Payments are part of €30m state bill
A MEDICAL practice earned nearly €83,000 for issuing sick certs to patients last year, the Irish Independent has learned.
The Ballyowen Medical Centre in Lucan, west Dublin, received €82,938 for issuing thousands of certs at a cost of €8.25 each.
The practice, headed by Dr James Francis Lee has 13 doctors, a large register of patients and is located in a densely populated area of the city.
Other high-earners included Hollyhill surgery in Cork where the main GP, Dr George O'Mahony, is listed as receiving €74,077.
The payouts were part of a €30m bill for sick certs which was paid out by the Department of Social Protection to GP surgeries last year.
Labour Dublin south-east TD Kevin Humphreys, who uncovered the extent of the payments in parliamentary questions, yesterday asked why some GPs charged private patients a fee while they received an additional payment from the Department of Social Protection for the sick cert.
He said "it highlights the often cosy relationship" that has existed between the State and the professions, adding that he hoped the issue would be addressed in the comprehensive spending review.
"I know of numerous examples from patients who have had to pay a large consulting fee before getting their medical certificate," he said last night.
"It is hard-pressed working families who are getting hit with a €50-plus consulting fee each time they need certification, while doctors get another €8.25 from the State."
Asked why doctors are paid for issuing the certs, a spokeswoman for the Department told the Irish Independent that the "arrangement is a long-standing one".
"The doctor is required to provide the department with a medical opinion regarding the fitness for work or otherwise of the patient," she said.
"The payment is in respect of the provision of the medical opinion."
The doctors get paid for the first, intermediate and final certificates. A patient looking for their first certificate should be medically examined. They should only be given the certificate where a doctor is satisfied they are incapable of work.
The spokeswoman said that normally a patient must be given a certificate each week for as long as incapacity for work lasts.
"Depending on the nature of the medical condition less frequent certification may be more appropriate. The department will advise the patient of any change in the certification frequency," she said.
Asked what level of monitoring is carried out by the department to prevent abuse, she said claims were reviewed regularly by its own doctors.
"Most illness benefits cases are reviewed in a systematic way along the principles of early intervention."
Last year there were 53,326 individuals called for examination, the majority of whom were illness benefit cases. Others were receiving disability payments.
There has been no reduction in the number of medical reviews carried out over the last number of years despite pressure on budgets.