Gardai are called to calm rows in medical card office
GARDAI had to be called to a medical card processing office because members of the public were so angry at lost applications and phones not being answered.
An Oireachtas Committee was told yesterday that the office will become the centre for the processing of all medical cards for the entire country from April.
Angry TDs told Health Minister Mary Harney and HSE chief Brendan Drumm yesterday that shifting the processing of all over-70s medical cards to the office in north Dublin was leading to chaos.
Labour TD Roisin Shorthall said members of the public recently became so irate with the poor service that gardai had to be called.
She said people are spending hours on the phone every day trying to get through to the office, which last week had to deal with 25,000 calls. And people who are applying for cards are not getting decisions for three to four months .
"It is a contemptuous way to treat people," she said. One 85-year-old man had his medical card applications lost on two occasions.
HSE chief Brendan Drumm admitted to problems with the office, which is due to be the centralised location for dealing with all medical cards in the country by April.
It was hoped to move 140 staff to the centralised office at that point but this was dependent on industrial relations problems being overcome.
The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children was told that industrial relations problems and resistance to the centralisation of the medical cards system was leading to staff in some local offices across the country refusing to deal with queries.
Senior HSE official Laverne McGuinness said that the office in Swords received 25,000 calls last week and is now dealing with all 72,000 medical cards for over-70s in the country.
Fine Gael TD Dr James Reilly said that while TDs are having trouble getting through to the office, for the public it was becoming a nightmare.
Ms Harney and Prof Drumm were giving a quarterly account of the running of the health service to the committee. The minister acknowledged problems were arising and said she has brought it to the attention of the HSE.
Prof Drumm confirmed that 1,100 hospital beds will be closed this year in line with a plan to cut emergency admissions by 31,000.
He also conceded that outpatient waiting lists remain a major bottleneck in system and the worst delays were in orthopaedics, dermatology, ear nose and throat and rheumatology.
Meanwhile, the Health Minister said she expected to have regulations in place to govern 'head shops' selling substances that can be used to obtain legal highs by the end of this month but it would take another three months before they were ratified by the European Commission.
Difficulties arise because of the problems in banning chemical compounds which need to be used in areas like the plastics industry.