No fines for consultants who broke patient rules
A GROUP of highly paid hospital consultants who earned extra money from treating more private patients than legally allowed are to escape without any penalty.
Doctors working in public hospitals have a limit set on the number of fee-paying patients they treat -- but more than 70 have exceeded their quotas.
Now the HSE has decided to park penalties that were to be imposed on some of these doctors -- who earn an average of €180,000 a year -- because they have cut back on their private work over the summer.
It is understood that if they break the limits again they will be liable for financial penalties, effectively fines, which run into thousands of euro.
However, another group of up to 10 consultants -- who are still refusing to reduce their private work -- risk being barred from private practice from Friday morning.
If they fail to pay the financial penalty, they may continue to treat private patients but will be unable to collect any fees.
The move comes in the wake of letters sent by the Health Service Executive (HSE) to over 70 hospital consultants in June demanding they pay 20pc of the additional fees they earned for treating excessive private patients.
Up to 20 doctors in a range of public hospitals, including Cork University Hospital and Limerick Regional Hospital, were given until tomorrow to pay the penalty or lose their right to charge private patients.
The consultants had originally agreed to limit their quota of private patients to 30pc in return for a higher salary -- but all were exceeding the limit and pocketing the fees.
Under the terms of the work contract they signed in 2008, they had to pay a financial penalty, which would be paid into a research fund at their hospital.
As the deadline loomed, however, a number of the consultants had their private practice quota examined again and a large number were found to be in line with their quota or almost compliant.
These doctors will escape paying the financial penalty if they continue to be compliant under an agreement with the HSE after an independent audit.
However, sources said yesterday it is akin to a suspended sentence and if they exceed the quota they will be liable for the money.
The Irish Independent understands that further auditing of the remaining doctors' practices was under way yesterday.
Between five and 10 consultants who have resisted paying the penalty, despite still being out of line, have until tomorrow evening to pay up.
If they fail to pay they cannot charge their private patients.