Tuesday 24 April 2018

Welfare chiefs tackle 'sickie' scams

Eilish O'Regan Health Correspondent

SOCIAL welfare chiefs are introducing a major clampdown on 'sickie' scams as doctors' certs cost the taxpayer more than €20m a year.

For the first time, doctors are to be policed over the issuing of sick certs in surgeries. A spokeswoman for the Department of Social Protection told the Irish Independent that doctors were to be issued with guidelines for first-time medical certification.

The aim of the guidelines are to "prevent people with common health problems progressing to a state of chronic disability". The guidelines are not yet publicly available.

The department is to invite 200 GPs to participate in a test as part of a six-month pilot scheme and, if it is successful, it will be rolled out nationally.

The guidelines will provide evidence-based, defined periods of recovery for common medical conditions and surgical procedures.

CERTIFIABLE

They will cover around 80pc of conditions that are certifiable, including problems like back pain, mental health issues, heart and lung problems, joint replacements, and recovery periods from common surgical procedures.

Sick certs are free to patients, but the doctor is paid €8.25 every time they certify a patient as unable to work. In 2011, there were 3.4 million sick certs issued at a cost of €28.2m.

The Department of Health has brought in measures to reduce the figure, and last year, a total of 2.5 million sick certs were issued at a cost of €20.8m.

Doctors have been subject to several sting operations by journalists posing as patients and feigning illness. But medical organisations say GPs have to take many patients at their word that they are experiencing the symptoms they describe.

Although the guidelines are unlikely to stop many patients getting certificates for the first time for an illness, they are likely to affect those who continue to complain of symptoms which evidence suggests should have cleared up over time.

Irish Independent

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