THE HSE has said it carries out monthly checks of all deaths registered to ensure patients who have died are deleted from its database of medical card holders.
Its comments came yesterday after callers to a radio programme claimed the HSE had issued their parents with medical cards after they had died and that their GPs were still being paid annual capitation fees for treating these people, even though they had passed away.
One caller told RTÉ's Livelineprogramme that a medical card was issued to her father four years after he died and that her mother was distressed about it. When she called the HSE, she was told her father's GP would have been paid for treating him for each of the previous four years, despite the fact that he was dead and she claimed the HSE said it had no way of getting the money back from the doctor.
Last week Minister for Health Mary Harney also told the Seanad that there were 10,000 fewer over-70s in the population than the number of those which had the medical card. That was probably because people who had died were still factored in, she indicated.
Age Action Ireland said it would be better for the Government to stop payments to GPs for dead patients rather than trying to take medical cards off some older people, following the recent Budget decision.
The HSE, in a statement, last night said some 1.3 million people were registered as having medical cards and the HSE does a monthly check of the General Registry Office database for details of deaths to keep its files up to date.
"However, records are not automatically updated after a death occurs, as it is broadly acknowledged that deaths are commonly registered by family members some months after taking place," it said.
It added that it is working with GPs to ensure they have "secure and confidential electronic" access to their lists of patients availing of the medical schemes.
"This allows the GPs to identify and notify the HSE when a person has died and where capitation fees continue to flow for a period until the list can be updated . . . we continue to encourage all family doctors to notify us of the passing of their patients as appropriate," it said.
"Inevitably and unfortunately, with such a comprehensive and significant database, individual issues will arise . . . We would apologise to anyone to whom any upset is caused when such issues arise. However, we would encourage individuals who have had such experiences to contact us."