PAC orders Vincent's to cooperate

  • Niall Hunter, Editor

The Dail Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has urged the HSE to contact St Vincent's Hospital, Dublin today to demand that the hospital explain its stance on the top-up pay controversy.

The hospital has to date refused to give details to the HSE on top-up payments to senior staff. St Vincent's has been warned by the HSE that it could be docked public funds if it does not cooperate with the investigation into salary top-ups.

A PAC meeting today was also told the HSE has since the first week in December been awaiting further information from Holles Street Hospital on extra payments made to the hospital Master and other senior staff.

Meanwhile, the PAC was told today that one senior health agency manager was getting three separate top-ups, according to a recent HSE audit.

HSE Human Resources Chief Barry O'Brien quoted recent correspondence from St Vincent's where the hospital stated it was compliant with public pay policy and cited contractual and data protection reasons for not divulging information on top-ups.

PAC Chairman John McGuinness described this as 'nonsense' and urged Mr O'Brien to contact the hospital immediately and order it to provide clarification on on its top-ups policy.

Department of Health Secretary General Ambrose McLoughlin told the PAC meeting that the HSE was working with voluntary agencies to ensure they were compliant with public service pay in terms of remuneration of their senior staff.

He told the PAC that the Department and HSE were introducing strict new rules on compliance with public pay and top-ups.

A national pay policy was being issued by the Department of Health, he said, and board members of voluntary agencies would be told they had no discretion in relation to top-ups for senior staff.

He said he would encourage St Vincent's Hospital to cooperate fully with the Minister for Health in terms of divulging information on its top-ups to some senior staff.

Geraldine Smith from the HSE's audit department said three senior managers at St Vincent's Hospital were found to be receiving additional payments funded from external sources, in contravention of public pay pollcy, and when the HSE queried this further, the hospital said as this pay was not from public funds it would not be appropriate to release that information.

In relation to Holles Street, Ms Smith said the hospital Master Dr Rhona Mahony had been in contact with the HSE and had met its Director General, Tony O'Brien recently in relation to her €45,000 top-up payment, which, she has insisted, related to private practice income.

However, the HSE said it has as yet received no evidence to date  from Holles Street to demonstrate that the allowance came from private practice.

However, Ms Smith said the HSE was still awaiting a response to its request made in the first week of December for further details about allowances paid to the Master and other senior staff at Holles Street.

A HSE audit, she said, identified 34 senior managers nationally getting top-ups from private sources; one of these managers was receiving three separate extra payments, with 10 receiving two types of payment.

According to the HSE, eight agencies so far have been deemed pay policy compliant, 12 confirmed to the HSE they were non-compliant, and 22 had said they were compliant but the HSE deemed they were not compliant.

Mr O'Brien told the Committee they were meeting with the 12 non-compliant agencies this week to verify compliance status. He said hoped that all agencies would shortly after the end of January have confrimed their compliance with pay policy.

Those agencies who wished to continue with top-ups would have to make a business case for continuation of this practice in certain cases, the Committee was told.

The HSE was criticised at the meeting about the length of time it was taking for it to deal with the top-ups controversy.

Mr McLoughlin said he was anxious to get the top-ups issue resolved fairly quickly.

He pointed out that the majority of voluntary agencies were complaint with pay policy- issues existed with a relatively small number of organisations.

Mr McGuinness said a small number of people receiving unauthorised top-ups were casting a cloud over the entire voluntary hospital and charity sector.

He said while voluntary agencies did 'phenomenal work', they needed to get on with their business in a more open way.

 

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