THE Health Service Executive (HSE) paid a barrister over €1m for 11 months' work last year, new figures reveal.
Figures from the HSE showed one senior counsel, Felix McEnroy, was paid €1.3m from January to November 2012 to represent it in court cases and for legal advice.
The next highest earning barrister, Peter Finlay, was paid €380,000 for the same period.
The HSE's annual legal bill has been significantly reduced in recent years – down from a high of €45m in 2009.
However, fees paid for legal services in 2012 will not sit well with frontline nurses, home-help carers and the estimated 40,000 people set to lose their medical cards this year.
A contract for legal services was put out to tender in 2011, which Arthur Cox solicitors won amid stiff competition. Payments made for contracted work amounted to €15m, not including VAT, the figures showed.
For work performed outside of this contract, the HSE paid another €14.5m to barristers, solicitors and guardians ad litem, who are solicitors or social workers appointed to children involved in long-term care proceedings.
Senior counsels who worked for the HSE in 2012 were paid up to €500 an hour while junior counsels were paid up to €200 an hour, a schedule of fees provided by the HSE revealed.
Senior counsels were also paid a "refresher fee" of up to €2,180 while juniors were paid up to €2,100.
A further "brief fee" was paid at the beginning of cases, which could be as much as €14,900 for seniors and €4,200 for juniors.
The guardian ad litem service cost the HSE over €6m last year.
Children's charity Barnardos, which provides the largest guardian ad litem service, received €2.8m, while four other organisations were paid more than €700,000 combined.
Guardians ad litem were paid €105 an hour, in line with an agreed scale of fees in the greater Dublin area.
In the rest of the county, payments were made at rates invoiced by guardians themselves, a spokeswoman said.
There were additional staff costs and general office expenses associated with the Office of Legal Services, set up in 2010 with a view to securing greater accountability and value for money from legal advisers, according to the spokeswoman.
She said the role of the office included oversight of legal services provided to the HSE and, where appropriate, the office queried and verified fees charged by advisers.
Although significant savings and efficiencies had been accrued to the HSE, a rigorous review of legal expenditure had begun with an aim to achieve further savings and efficiencies, the spokeswoman said.