My Department has no direct involvement in the operation of the disabled drivers medical board of appeal. However, I am informed that there is a backlog of appeals to be dealt with by the board, involving a waiting time of over two years for appellants to be seen. I am advised that the backlog of appeals, approximately 600, is caused by a number of factors, in particular, the general increase in applications for a primary medical certificate, and the significant number of persons who are aware that they do not meet the medical criteria specified in the regulations but nevertheless insist on exercising their right of appeal.
An interdepartmental review group was established to examine the operation of the scheme and the group's report was published in early July. Following from the report's recommendations concerning the appeals process, amendments to the regulations governing the disabled drivers and disabled passengers tax concessions scheme were drafted to improve the operation of the medical appeals board. These were signed by the Minister for Finance on 23 July 2004. The amendments provide for changes to the existing regulations by expanding the panel of medical practitioners serving on the medical board of appeal from three to five. They also amend the appeals process by introducing a six-month waiting period between an appeal and a subsequent application, and introducing the requirement for a second or subsequent application to be certified by a registered medical practitioner to the effect that there has been material disimprovement in the medical condition of the appellant since the previous application.
With regard to the first change, I hope, very shortly, on the recommendation of the Minister for Health and Children, to appoint two more doctors to the board. A panel of five doctors should allow for the board to meet more regularly and hence reduce the backlog. As regards the second change, it should be noted that a further factor in the backlog of appeals is that a number of those who are seen by the board and are dissatisfied with its decision are re-appealing immediately and this is causing a build up of appeals. The change addresses this issue and should free up the appeals board to deal with existing appeals in the system and subsequent appeals where a change in an individual's circumstance requires a reassessment.