Written Answers. - Medical Assessors.

Seamus Kirk

Ceist:

398 Mr. Kirk asked the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs the guidelines issued to referee doctors who examine and assess disability benefit and assistance claims from people with psychiatric illness; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27612/01]

In the context of determining entitlement to disability benefit and other illness-related schemes, medical assessors of my Department provide a second opinion to that of the claimant's own doctor for the guidance of the Department's deciding officers who ultimately make the decision in these cases. All of the medical assessors are fully qualified and experienced medical practitioners with registration in accordance with Medical Council criteria.

Among the medical assessor cadre are individual doctors with postgraduate and higher qualifications in various fields of occupational medicine including psychology and psychotherapy. Continuing medical education is provided by national and international experts in human disability evaluation.

Concerning mental health evaluation, the ability of claimants to undertake their usual or other types of work is evaluated having regard to the nature of the work, their capacity to complete tasks, to cope with daily living-pressure and to interact with other people.

At the medical examination, the medical assessor will have available to him or her the initial medical diagnosis, supplemented, where applicable, by relevant specialist and other reports. In addition, the claimant's certifying doctor is informed and may attend if he or she so desires. In certain complex cases the chief medical adviser may also seek relevant specialist opinion.

The primary task of the medical assessor is to evaluate the overall medical condition of the claimant having regard to the prescribed medical criteria for entitlement to the particular illness-related scheme. In the course of this evaluation all relevant and available medical information is taken into account.

Every effort is made to protect the interests of the person and examinations are conducted in an impartial and independent manner in accordance with accepted medical practice.
A wide range of mental and physical incapacities feature in the area of occupational medicine and human disability. Many cases have both a physical and mental dimension. It is felt that current arrangements are the most effective and customer friendly with an emphasis on continuing medical education and relevant training and access to specialist advice as appropriate.