A PANICKED hospital surgeon signed off on around €500,000 worth of private health insurance claims before the visit of the health service's new financial chief.
The massive sum was overdue for work carried out on private patients in the cash-strapped public hospital – but the necessary paperwork to be sent to insurance companies in order to get paid needed the consultant's signature.
Tom Byrne – the Health Service Executive's (HSE) first chief financial officer, who has been recruited from the private sector – said the incident illustrated the serious problem of delays in income collection despite the pressures on the service.
Deficits in the health budget can lead to cuts in services – yet the ongoing problem of consultants failing to sign off on forms needed to collect an outstanding €130m due for treating private patients remains a major issue.
Mr Byrne was speaking at the annual conference of the Health Management Institute of Ireland.
He is currently in talks with hospitals to review outstanding claims which will generate money from private patients.
He wants them to sign off on invoices and ensure that they are submitted to insurers in a timely manner.
"At the moment 60pc of finance staff in the HSE are ticking and totting – work which is not value added," he said.
He was speaking as the most recent published accounts from the HSE in July showed it heading for a potential deficit of €200m, although the outlook has since improved.