HOSPITAL consultants are preventing the cash-strapped HSE from collecting €61m from health insurers by failing to sign off on bills on time.
Hospital consultants agreed a deal last September to sign off on the forms for treating these patients within 20 days.
But despite committing to a new deal, the doctors are taking even longer in some cases to complete the paperwork to allow the HSE to claim back the cost of treating private patients in public hospitals.
And new figures show that in 16 of the country's 46 hospitals, consultants are now taking even longer than they did a year ago.
Not completing the paperwork on time means the HSE – which recorded a €360m overspend last year – won't be able collect money it is owed by private health firms.
In Ennis General Hospital, consultants are currently taking on average of 72 days to sign off on claims forms for private patients compared to 40 days last year.
In Nenagh General Hospital, the average waiting time has risen from 25 days to 51. And in St James's Hospital in Dublin, the HSE is now waits 45 days on average instead of 32.
At the Dail's Public Accounts committee, HSE chief executive Tony O'Brien warned that action would be taken against consultants who did not meet the new 20 day sign-off target.
Although two thirds of hospitals have recorded improvements between December 2011-December 2012, there were still long delays in receiving the forms from consultants.
The worst case is in the MidWestern Regional Hospital in Dooradoyle, Co Limerick, where consultants are taking 103 days to sign off on forms.
That is slightly better than in 2011, when they took 124 days.
Mr O'Brien said he believed that some consultants did not understood the importance of signing claim forms on time.
But he agreed that it was "strange" that consultants were not filling the forms faster, because it was also delaying their own payments from the private health insurer.
Fine Gael TD Kieran O'Donnell said that the failure of the consultants to sign the forms had a major impact on the HSE's cash budget for frontline services, while Sinn Fein TD Mary Lou McDonald described the delays as an "absolute scandal".