Sunday 20 April 2014

HSE admits it approved top-up for boss 'in error'

Tony O'Brien: allowance
Tony O'Brien:

THE Health Service Executive has admitted that it was responsible for an “administrative error” which led to its chief executive Tony |O’Brien getting an unauthorised top-up of €25,000 a year.

Mr O’Brien, who was appointed as full-time director-general of the HSE earlier this year, received the annual payment while he was in a previous job as head of the National Cancer Screening Service.

Mr O’Brien received about €160,000 over a six-year period, but his spokeswoman has declined to say if he has paid any of the money back as a goodwill gesture.

Mr O’Brien first received the extra payment when he took on additional responsibility as project director of a national plan for radiation oncology.

He was paid the yearly allowance from 2006 to 2012 – even though he moved to the HSE as assistant director in 2010, before being appointed in an acting role as head of the HSE last year – which was when the unsanctioned payment was discovered.

A spokeswoman for Mr O’Brien said that “unknown to Mr O’Brien” an “administrative error” by the HSE was subsequently discovered, whereby the full approval process had not been completed by the HSE.

The payment has been classed as unauthorised because the HSE and the Department of Health breached rules and failed to get sanction from the Department of Finance.

Ironically, the HSE is now battling with the managers of voluntary hospitals and agencies which it funds |to stamp out similar unauthorised top-ups to their senior managers.

It has demanded that voluntary hospitals and agencies which have paid the unauthorised top-ups to managers should give the money back.

Health Minister Dr James Reilly said yesterday that he would now have to “familiarise” himself with the unsanctioned annual top-up allowance to Mr O’Brien.

The minister refused to give an opinion on whether Mr O’Brien should show “leadership” and repay the €160,000 he received in total from the allowance, which was not authorised by the department.

Questioned on Mr O’Brien’s overpayment, which was examined last year by the Department of Public Expenditure and the Department of Health, the minister said: “This refers to a different time, a different regime and a different government.”

Asked why Mr O’Brien should be exempt from paying back an unauthorised top-up, the minister said: “Nobody is saying anyone is going to be exempt from anything.

“I can discuss that later. I have to familiarise myself with the entirety of that situation.

“But that relates to a different time and a different regime when he was in a different job.”

Meanwhile, the board of the Rotunda maternity hospital in Dublin met to discuss the top-ups controversy.

It said that no monies raised by, or donated to, Friends of the Rotunda were used to pay directly, or indirectly, any salaries, allowances or performancerelated payments to management or staff of the Rotunda Hospital.

However, it said it would not make any further public comment.

“On providing further information, it was agreed that in the first instance, the responsibility of the board was to respond comprehensively to the HSE, and, if required, to the proposed Public Accounts Committee meeting in the new year.

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