HSE pays private firm €250k a year to fill €116k post
A PRIVATE management consultancy firm is being paid €250,000 a year by the Health Service Executive (HSE) to fill a senior health service post – more than twice the official rate for the job.
The HSE, which is enforcing more swingeing hospital cuts as it struggles with its biggest financial crisis yet, is making the massive €258,730 payment to the Starline Management Consulting Limited.
The agency is filling the post of assistant chief executive and chief operating officer in the mid-west, which carries a salary of €116,000.
The extent of the payment only came to light yesterday when HSE chief Tony O'Brien was challenged by Public Accounts Committee chairman John McGuinness and followed a grilling by TDs on the distress inflicted on medical card holders.
Mr O'Brien admitted that despite advertising the post twice it could find no applicants to take up the position.
The post involves overseeing the group of hospitals in the mid-west region, including Limerick regional hospital, which was at the centre of a damning report over the risk posed to patients in its overcrowded emergency department. Mr O'Brien said he could not say if one or more people from the agency received the €258,730 payments between March 2013 and April 2013.
Department of Health secretary general Ambrose McLoughlin agreed it "does seem a large amount" but said he had no role in approving the agency.
The HSE chief defended the use of the agency, saying there was a need to strengthen the management team overseeing the hospital group and the job proved "impossible to fill" otherwise.
"This is not an isolated case," he told the committee.
The HSE was also having to pay other private agencies "in excess for the job" because it is the only way at the present time to fill them.
"It is not the most desirable approach but it was needed at a critical time for the hospital group when enormous improvements need to be made."
The HSE is faced with the option of leaving a critical post vacant, with adminsitrative and clinical risk or filling it with an agency, he added.
Mr McGuinness told Mr O'Brien his committee wants an investigation, with a "complete breakdown" of the sum involved.
The information should also include who approved it and whether it relates to one or more people in the agency as well as what happened when the job was advertised publicly.
Mr O Brien objected to Mr McGuinness's use of the word 'investigation'.
He said it was an authorised procurement of services and that there is "nothing mysterious" about it.
The meeting was also told that the HSE is outsourcing services connected with medical cards, including using the Dublin-based German firm Arvato Finance for data input at a cost of €2.6m.
It also uses a privately manned call centre to operate the medical card helpline at a cost of €2m a year.
Since the controversy over discretionary medical cards, the service has seen the number of weekly calls rise to 40,000, he added.