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Burton urged to scrap €30m sick cert fees

THE €30m fees paid to GPs for sick cert payments should be scrapped, the Government has been told.

Every GP receives an additional €8.25 for each sick cert they sign for social welfare application forms.

This bonus is on top of their doctor's fee that they have charged the patient.

These forms were issued to workers who had been off sick for more than three days, which allows their employers to claim back a portion of their wages.

The Department of Social Protection receives approximately 60,000 certificates with doctors' signatures every week.

One practice with 13 doctors received a top payment of €83,000. This is equivalent to 9,300 certs or an average of 180 certs a week.

Labour Party TD Kevin Humphreys called on his party colleague, Social Protection Minister Joan Burton, to scrap the payment rather than looking for savings elsewhere.

Mr Humphreys said: "This is an unnecessary top-up payment to doctors that we can no longer afford. It is on top of the €50 or more a patient pays for a consultation.

"As hard-pressed families know, the price of visiting your doctor has not come down, but they continue to receive this top-up from the state."

Mr Humphreys said that the payment should be abolished and the savings used to protect social welfare payments to the most vulnerable in our society.

The Irish Medical Organisation said that the practice takes up a large amount of a doctor's time. It added that the fees had been reviewed and had not increased since 2003/4.

It said that GPs had been subject to two rounds of public service cuts and the fees were covered by the Croke Park Agreement.

A recent investigation discovered that more than 11,000 people had benefits stopped last year after medical checks found they were fit to work.

In the wake of this investigation, the Irish College of General Practitioners admitted there were major problems withthe ease of obtaining certificates.

There are two types of sick certs -- first and final medical certs (MC1) and intermediate certs, called MC2s.

The Department processes an average of 5,000 MC1s and 50,000 MC2s.