A private company, headed up by the chairman of the HSE Frank Dolphin, will play a key role in the centralisation of medical card processing, which was formerly dealt with by public health staff in local offices.
From this month all medical card processing will be dealt with at the Primary Care Reimbursement Service (PCRS) in Finglas in Dublin.
Dr Dolphin is chairman of the major outsourcing firm Rigney Dolphin, which holds two contracts with the Health Service Executive.
One of those contracts is to support a new telecommunications call system, which was introduced by the HSE in early June 2010, to manage customer telephone queries.
Rigney Dolphin provides an overflow service for the HSE call system and it is paid for on a per-call basis.
As part of the new medical card centralisation scheme, Rigney Dolphin will now be dealing with calls relating to General Medical Services (GMS) applications, a spokeswoman for the HSE told the Sunday Independent.
The spokeswoman said she was unable at short notice to provide details of the value of the contracts (one local and one national) awarded to Rigney Dolphin because there were 17 different financial systems across the HSE which would have to be evaluated.
"That would take at least two days to get those figures," she said.
Dr Dolphin, a native of Birr, Co Offaly, worked as a psychologist before founding Rigney Dolphin -- which now employs 1,200 people -- in 1990.
He was appointed chairman of the HSE by former Health Minister Mary Harney last July and took up his position in August.
According to a HSE spokeswoman, Rigney Dolphin operates as a major customer service, staff recruitment and business process outsourcing business and has worked with many public service bodies over the years, including the former health boards.
The spokeswoman insisted that no new contract had been awarded in relation to the centralisation of processing medical cards and that Rigney Dolphin held the two contracts with the HSE prior to the company chairman becoming non-executive chairman of the HSE. "In accordance with the disclosure of interest provisions in the Code of Practice for the Governance of State Bodies (2009) and the HSE Code of Governance, these were disclosed on Dr Dolphin's appointment," the spokeswoman said.
The other contract with the HSE awarded to Rigney Dolphin is for the provision of temporary clerical staff to Waterford Regional Hospital.
"As is the norm with public service business, the contracts for the provision of these supports were entered into with Rigney Dolphin following procurement processes for competitive commercial services," she added.
Medical card applications and reviews made before July 1 will continue to be processed at local health service offices.
About 50 per cent of national medical card applications already come through the central office and this will now move to 100 per cent, the HSE said in a statement to the Sunday Independent.
The spokeswoman said the move represented a changeover in HSE back office functions and was in line with the Croke Park Agreement.
"It is designed to ensure a more streamlined and faster system for processing medical cards. This should not affect how clients apply for a medical card. Rather it gives people more options as to how they can apply for and, later, get further information on their medical card.
"It is a key strategic change . . . which actively supports the country's efforts to provide key public services in a more efficient, streamlined and standardised way."
She said more than 90 staff had been redeployed to the central PCRS office and that remaining vacancies would be filled over the coming months in the same way.
The spokeswoman said that the HSE operated in accordance with best corporate governance practice.
"If a matter relating to Rigney Dolphin arose for consideration at board level, he [Dr Dolphin] would depute another board member to chair the board meeting and would absent himself when the board is deliberating or deciding on a matter," she said.