My Department recently introduced redesigned claim and medical certificate forms for use in the illness and injury benefit schemes. The purpose of the redesign was to facilitate a new process within the Department whereby forms would be scanned rather than manually keyed into the new IT system. Claims received on the new forms and certificates are being processed into the payment system on the same day as they are received. That is a significant improvement on behalf or our clients. The introduction of the redesigned form was discussed with the Irish Medical Organisation, IMO, in advance. The IMO advised its members, one month before its introduction, that they should co-operate with the use of the new forms.
The Department subsequently communicated directly with general practitioners, GPs, as is our responsibility, shortly before the introduction of the redesigned forms. Given the confusion that has arisen over the last couple of months, we have to accept that we should probably have communicated directly with the GPs more quickly than we did. We accept that and we apologise.
The majority of the certificates in the claim forms that are now being received each day by the Department are the new scannable versions. These claims are being processed without any delay. However, some GPs have continued to use the old forms after the changeover date. To facilitate the continued payment of the illness and injury benefits to our clients, my Department has, to date, considered to accept those old forms. While their continued use causes delays to our processing times, my Department is doing everything possible to ensure that customers are paid as quickly as possible. There is currently a backlog of two days in processing the old forms and certificates.
The introduction of these and other initiatives is the subject of ongoing discussions with the IMO. A framework and timetable have been agreed with the IMO, during which intensive discussions are planned. New processes will not be introduced until these discussions are concluded and advance notice, including details of any changes to payment arrangements, will be provided to the individual GPs directly from my Department. It is important to note that the Department has had a long and positive relationship with GPs for many years. We are committed to working hard to resolve any outstanding issues which cause concerns among our GP partners.
I would like to put on the record of the House my immense gratitude to the people in the illness benefit section of my Department. They worked tirelessly, including coming in at weekends, to ensure that the clients, who rely on the weekly payment and have no other form of income, did not have to wait due to a delay. We had to find a work-around IT system because had already moved to the new system and the old system was therefore not working. I say genuinely, and do not think it can be understated, that they worked their socks off to ensure the service we give to our clients is as good and reliable as it always is. I, for one, am exceptionally grateful for their commitment.