Disabled drivers and passengers are facing a further setback after it was revealed to Denis Naughten TD that the National Rehabilitation Hospital is to withdraw from its role in the Primary Medical Certificate appeals process.
This compounds problems already experienced for those trying to obtain the certificate following the blanket resignation of the appeals board, which effectively meant the vast majority of people with a disability were marooned in their own homes.
“The members of the Disabled Drivers Medical Board of Appeal previously tendered their resignation to the Minister for Finance due to their frustration with the operation of the primary medical certificate scheme,” stated Denis Naughten.
“Changes in the operation of the scheme had meant that unless a person was without the use of both hands or both legs or had lost a limb, they would be refused the primary medical certificate, which if granted would allow them to receive a reduction in VRT and VAT when purchasing or adapting a vehicle. It also exempts them from motor tax and tolls and offers a fuel grant.”
Work had taken place to recruit members to the independent Disabled Drivers Medical Board of Appeal (DDMBA), which hears appeals from those whose applications for a primary medical cert are refused. However, the appeals system has now been dealt a major blow.
Minister for Finance, Michael McGrath, confirmed to Denis Naughten: “Engagement began in December 2021 with the National Rehabilitation Hospital, to ascertain the conditions for their continued hosting of the new Disabled Drivers Medical Board of Appeal. In February 2023, the National Rehabilitation Hospital (that has hosted the DDMBA since 2000) indicated their intention to withdraw their services with immediate effect. Finance and Health officials are actively seeking to implement new arrangements, including engaging with the NRH. As there are a range of requirements and complex issues involved this may take some time.”
Commenting on the news, Deputy Naughten said: “This is a major blow, especially to the more than 900 people who currently have appeals outstanding under this scheme.
“For many disabled people who have no access to public transport, this was the only assistance available to them to get around as the Motorised Transport Grant and Mobility Allowance were both suspended a decade ago.
“It is just not good enough that we now have three support schemes that allow people with a disability to live independently and get around, effectively suspended, for the majority of people with a disability who cannot access alternative transport.
“This is leaving people with a disability unable to take up employment or even engage within their own local community due to the lack of very basic independence,” concluded Denis Naughten.
For Written Answer on : 25/05/2023
Question Number(s): 129 Question Reference(s): 25443/23
Asked by: Denis Naughten T.D.
To ask the Minister for Finance the current status of the disabled drivers medical board of appeal; the number of applications presently awaiting a decision; the current waiting time for a decision; the number of appeals considered and determined in each month over the past 12 months; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
The Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers Scheme provides relief from Vehicle Registration Tax and VAT on an adapted car, as well as an exemption from motor tax and an annual fuel grant.
The Scheme is open to severely and permanently disabled persons as a driver or as a passenger and also to certain charitable organisations. In order to qualify for relief, the applicant must hold a Primary Medical Certificate (PMC) issued by the relevant Senior Area Medical Officer (SAMO) or a Board Medical Certificate issued by the Disabled Driver Medical Board of Appeal (DDMBA). To qualify for a Primary Medical Certificate an applicant must be permanently and severely disabled, and satisfy at least one of the six medical criteria, as set out in the Finance Act 2020.
In the event that a PMC is not granted by the relevant Senior Area Medical Officer an appeal may be made to the independent Disabled Drivers Medical Board of Appeal (DDMBA).
At an appeal hearing the Board reviews the decision by a HSE Primary/Senior Area Medical Officer and determines if an appellant does, or does not meet, one of the six medical criteria. Only if an appellant meets one of the six eligibility criteria will the Board issue a Board Medical Certificate.
I have no role in relation to the granting or refusal of PMCs and the HSE and the Medical Board of Appeal must be independent in their clinical determinations.
Following the resignation of all previous DDMBA members in November 2021, I had hoped that I would be in a position to establish a new DDMBA and recommence the appeals process by this point.
With respect to the recruitment of new members, as background five members are legislatively required for a functional Board with a quorum of three needed for any appeal hearing. The Department of Health has led on all actions and tasks with respect to Expression of Interest Campaigns to recruit candidates. Department of Finance officials have provided support to the Department of Health in this matter. Active recruitment efforts began shortly after the resignation of all members in November 2021, with the first Expression of Interest Campaign launched in January 2022. By November 2022 after three recruitment campaigns, five individuals had been nominated by the Minister of Health, pending successful completion of Garda vetting of two final candidates. These candidates successfully completed Garda vetting in January 2023.
Engagement began in December 2021 with the National Rehabilitation Hospital (NRH), to ascertain the conditions for their continued hosting of the new DDMBA. In February 2023, the National Rehabilitation Hospital (that has hosted the DDMBA since 2000) indicated their intention to withdraw their services with immediate effect. Finance and Health officials are actively seeking to implement new arrangements, including engaging with the NRH. As there are a range of requirements and complex issues involved this may take some time.
In March 2023, one nominated member of the DDMBA resigned for personal reasons. The Department of Health with support from Department of Finance officials launched another Expression of Interest Campaign on 3rd April 2023 with a closing date of 28th April 2023. One candidate has been interviewed.
Requests for appeal hearings can still be sent to the DDMBA secretary based in the National Rehabilitation Hospital.
Assessments for the PMC by the HSE, are continuing to take place. In this regard, an important point to make is that even though there has been no appeal mechanism since the previous Board resigned, applicants who have been deemed not to have met one of the six eligibility criteria required for a PMC are entitled to request another PMC assessment six months after an unsuccessful PMC assessment.
As of 24th April (latest data available) there are 912 appeals outstanding.