Sunday 22 October 2017

I didn’t know about pay deals for health chiefs, says Kenny

Eilish O'Regan and Michael Brennan

TAOISEACH Enda Kenny was kept in the dark about unapproved “top-up” payments made to senior executives in voluntary hospitals and health agencies.

It comes amid growing controversy as many doctors and health managers are refusing |to say if their lucrative pay allowances are being financed from funds generously raised by the public.

A spokesman for the Taoiseach confirmed that he had only been informed about the specific details of the amounts paid last Monday – 24 hours before the details went into the public domain.

It emerged that many of the senior health executives are being paid salaries which are far higher than Mr Kenny's own €185,000 salary.

But Dr Rhona Mahony, Master of the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin, has declined to comment on the source of the €45,000 “privately sourced” top-up allowance she is receiving – despite harsh criticism of the payments by Mr Kenny.

Dr Mahony was already earning over €236,000 in taxpayer-funded salary and allowances in May when she was listed in a Department of Health report among a number of top doctors and executives getting the private top-ups.

And a spokesman for Master of the Rotunda Hospital, Dr Sam Coulter Smith, getting a €20,000 private top-up even though he was on a salary of €183,562 and other allowances, said they could not comment “at this stage”.

Other senior managers in both hospitals are also getting privately sourced allowances.

The hospitals are heavily in the red, and have dynamic fundraising operations which subsidise services in order to alleviate some of the impact of health cuts.

The individual payments to the doctors and staff in Holles Street and the Rotunda are not outlined in any detail in their annual reports. Their salaries were reduced in July under the Haddington Road Agreement.

The Government is unsure of how long the top-up payments have been in place, but has promised to publish a HSE report into the payments as soon as it is completed.

More than 40 HSE-funded services, including voluntary hospitals and agencies caring for the disabled and elderly which get a collective €1.5bn in funding, had until yesterday to reply to the HSE to say if they have ended the private allowance arrangements which are in breach of pay policy.

But only 13 of them cited compliance.

Health Minister James Reilly said some are asking for more time because of contractual arrangements and they can make a case for the retention |of the allowance to the Department of Public Expenditure.

However, he said they cannot be justified at a time when “a lot of people have taken pain”.

He expects a report from the HSE shortly and will decide if further action should be taken to recoup overpayments.

He added: “The employees of these voluntary bodies get the same pay and conditions as public servants, and they should be subject to the same policies. I have made it clear it has to stop. Everyone is on the same boat.”

Sweeteners

Mr Kenny said the Government was attempting to weed out “sweeteners” and unauthorised allowances among senior executives in the health service, so that vital funding went towards patient services instead.

He said that ordinary health service workers had already taken pay reductions and roster changes to their credit.

“We cannot and will not have a situation in which chief executives breach the public service pay agreements through unauthorised non-exchequer payments,” he said.

Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin attacked the Government for failing to tackle the “premier league” allowances during the Haddington Road talks.

And they were condemned by unions including SIPTU, which said many of its members in disability services are enduring the minimum wage.

 

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