Sunday 26 February 2017

Call to end pursuit of doctors over patient ratios

Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

THE Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) has warned the health authorities to call off its pursuit of doctors who are alleged to be treating too many private patients in public hospitals.

The Health Service Executive (HSE) has challenged 36 consultants for treating more private patients than they are allowed to under the terms of their public contracts.

In an angry response this month, Donal Duffy, assistant general secretary of the consultants' body, suggested that consultants were being wrongly accused of exceeding their public/private ratio and were suffering stress as a result of the false accusations, according to sources.

The IHCA's latest intervention was triggered by the HSE's threat to impose financial penalties on consultants who are allegedly seeing too many private patients.

Consultants signed up two years ago to salaries of between €189,000 and €216,000 in return for new working conditions, including limiting private patients to 20 to 30 per cent of their workload.

According to the HSE's monitoring system, many consultants breached those quotas.

Mr Duffy declined to comment on his correspondence to the HSE this weekend. He said that hospital consultants signed up to the principle that the public and private patient ratio should be monitored.

However, he said the measurement system used by the HSE was incomplete and that a significant amount of consultant activity went unrecorded.

He said he knew a number of hospital consultants who were wrongly accused by the HSE of treating too many private patients.

Paul Connors, the HSE's head of communications, said: "The negotiations on this issue are between the HSE and the individual consultants; as to the letters, the HSE will not get into a public discourse on them."

The HSE has been raising the issue of consultants who exceed their public private ratios for years and earlier this year, hospital managers wrote to 296 consultants asking them to address excessive levels of private practice.

It only recently began trying to impose financial penalties, writing to those consultants whose private patients exceeded 50 per cent of their case load.

The penalties include asking the consultant to reimburse the public system by making a payment into an approved education fund.

So far, efforts to recoup the money have been unsuccessful.

Sunday Independent

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