I propose to take Questions Nos. 345 and 347 together.
Applications for Disability/Invalidity schemes are medically assessed by Medical Assessors in my Department who are fully qualified and experienced practitioners. They provide a second opinion to that of the person’s own doctor. Their assessments conform to the ethical conduct and behaviour guidelines of the Irish Medical Council. These medical assessments involve comprehensive examination of the person’s medical history and clinical evaluation from the client’s own primary healthcare provider (GP) and all available current medical evidence. They also involve a review of any investigation results and specialist/consultant reports. Cases which relate to conditions of mental disability, including suicidal ideation and depression, are accepted as medical evidence and considered in arriving at decisions for these schemes. The assessment is made in accordance with the Department’s evidence-based medical guidelines and protocols which include as key indicators suicidal ideation and depression. All medical evidence is taken into consideration and no medical evidence is ever discounted.
There are currently twenty two Medical Assessors, including the Chief Medical Advisor and Deputy Chief Medical Advisor, who conduct medical assessments across a wide range of the Department's schemes. Of these, six have post-graduate qualifications in the area of mental health, such as MRCPsych and Dip. Clinical Psychiatry. They also have extensive clinical training and experience in psychiatry together with membership of recognised professional bodies such as the Royal College of Psychiatrists London and the College of Psychiatry Ireland. The Medical Assessors have an on-going commitment to continuing medical education to ensure that standards are maintained and enhanced. This includes working in a collegiate way to ensure that best practice and professional expertise is shared and applied across all of the cases that are reviewed by them. Daily case conference meetings are held and a medical research unit has been established to actively engage in the update of the body of medical knowledge and evidence based practice. Furthermore, as a result of a recent recruitment campaign for Medical Assessors, seven were recruited of whom two have mental health qualifications - MRCPsych. Further recruitment of Medical Assessors is underway.