Connolly slams decision to centralise medical card office

A former vice chairperson of the HSE West’s regional health forum has described the decision to centralise the processing of medical card applications to a single location in Dublin as a “backward step”.

Councillor Catherine Connolly has warned that the controversial decision taken by former health minister Mary Harney in 2009 will put further pressure on an already overburdened centre in the capital.

The service was previously operated by HSE community welfare officers and meant local applications were dealt with in Galway. But from June 1 these will all be processed at an office in Finglas which already receives 1,000 telephone calls a day, she claims.

“This decision has gone ahead notwithstanding the continued and unanimous opposition from 40 councillors on the Health Forum West,” says Cllr Connolly. “In this regard as far back as March 2009 the forum unanimously opposed such a move, indeed they roundly condemned the decision and called for its immediate reversal.

“Indeed at the time, the forum went further and specifically asked the director of the forum to convey this result to the HSE in Dublin and to Minister Mary Harney. Yet notwithstanding this decision of the Health Forum and subsequent similar decisions and a change of government the HSE has ploughed ahead with its centralisation plans.”

She stated this level of “stupidity” and “crass indifference” to the opinions of councillors of all parties beggars belief and is “absolutely contemptuous” of local democracy.

“As it stands, the offices in Dublin, where all applications in relation to medical cards for over 70s are handled [since January 2007 under a pilot scheme] is under severe strain with a backlog of over six weeks in processing applications/queries.

“Furthermore I understand that the offices in Finglas are receiving 1,000 phone calls a day as it stands and do not have the facilities to deal with same. To add a further 90,000 extra medical card owners from Galway city and county alone on an already burdened system in Dublin, not to mention the 1,500,000 plus medical card holders throughout the country, beggars belief.”

She said the service provided by Galway community care staff in Shantalla has been “second to none”.

“All queries/ applications re medical cards are processed not only in a very speedy and efficient manner but also in a very human way. Staff in the medical card section have always been more than willing and available to advise ordinary people re their entitlement to a medical card and or answer any of their queries.”

HSE staff in Galway review about 1,000 medical cards each month, she said. “In addition due to the current economic downturn they also process on a monthly basis an additional 1,000 new applications. To destroy such an excellent service in Galway and move it to an already overburdened office in Dublin is nothing short of mind-numbing stupidity. It is also a complete denigration of the service provided to date in Shantalla and simply makes no sense.”

Cllr Connolly called on the new Government to reverse this decision and said she will raise the matter at the next local health forum meeting.

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