HSE chiefs agreed to stay quiet about pay perks for managers
HEALTH chiefs agreed to remain tight-lipped after being informed about generous top-up allowances to senior managers in organisations that were already receiving at least €1m each in public funds.
The disclosures that 34 of these disability organisations were paying salary extras of up to 15pc in many cases emerged after the Health Service Executive (HSE) was told by the Department of Health to investigate the suspected practice as far back as 2008.
But after some agencies – which also receive income through public fundraising – expressed concern that information would impact on the "commercial sensitivities" of their operations if it came into the "public domain", the HSE provided assurances the details would be treated with the "utmost confidentiality".
The revelation is made in a new confidential HSE audit of 46 agencies, including hospitals and organisations caring for the disabled and the elderly, which receive more than €1bn in taxpayers' funds every year. The cash-strapped hospitals involved include the Mater, St James's, St Vincent's and Our Lady's in Crumlin.
Disability organisations and other agencies include St Michael's House, the Brothers of Charity, the Daughters of Charity and Cheeverstown House.
The findings – disclosed in the Irish Independent – showed 91 senior managers were sharing €3.2m in allowances taken from the public purse, while 32 executives were getting another €912,472 in benefits from "private sources".
The allowances ranged from health insurance to motor allowances as well as "extra duty" payments and lucrative on-call fees.
The audit, which found a lack of documentary evidence to confirm these extra payments had been officially sanctioned by the Department of Health, prompted a strongly worded circular to the HSE from the department saying unauthorised top-ups should be stopped.
A department spokeswoman said yesterday it made clear "unauthorised" payments were not permitted and the HSE was told to ensure agencies were complying with pay rules.
The first progress report from the HSE is due shortly.
However, many of the agencies are stalling and have failed to meet the October 24 deadline to confirm compliance with pay rules.
A spokeswoman said that responses had been received from 33 agencies but 11 agencies did not reply to the instruction.
She said: "A number of agencies said they needed additional time to consider the implications of the circular. Some agencies also identified the need to seek legal advice in respect of existing contractual arrangements."
The HSE's director of human resources, Barry O'Brien, wrote another letter to agencies that were stalling and "reiterated the requirement to deal with the issue as a matter of urgency and give a comprehensive response" by next Tuesday.
The Irish Independent yesterday contacted a number of the hospitals involved. Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children and St Vincent's Hospital said it was in "ongoing discussions". Tallaght Hospital said it was not paying health insurance for any manager but did not refer to other allowances. Beaumont Hospital and the Mater Hospital did not respond.
Cappagh Hospital said it was not paying health insurance premiums for managers but did not report on other allowances.
A spokesman for Stewart's Hospital, which the audit report found was paying health insurance for five managers, said it was "addressing the issue to achieve full compliance".
St Michael's House did not respond. There was no reply from the Daughters of Charity or the Brothers of Charity.