Time for all in health sector to feel the pain
It has dodged, shuffled and side-stepped for three years now. So will the Health Service Executive (HSE) finally call the hospital consultants, which it is accusing of treating too many private patients, to account?
According to its figures, around 70 consultants are flouting the private patient limit they agreed.
As a result, they owe tens of thousands in surplus fees to their hospital research fund.
If the terms of the 2008 contract were followed, these payments should have begun in 2009.
But the matter has been in dispute because doctors say the system of measuring their public and private quota is faulty.
The HSE is now saying if individual consultants fail to pay up by mid-September, their right to take money from private patients will be frozen.
It believes that consultants will relent before then.
Even if the methodology is faulty, doctors with large private patient caseloads will find it difficult to argue that they don't owe money to the hospital. But, how much will still be an issue.
However, the HSE cannot be seen to grant any more indulgence to hospital consultants after delivering tough medicine in the form of fee cuts to other colleagues.
The hospital consultants had a pay cut of 15pc in 2009 and have not received promised increases. But other groups say they have suffered more.
GPs have seen a €48m cut in the state fees they get for treating medical-card holders. It comes on top of a reduction of around €115m in the payments in recent years.
Pharmacists say they endured a reduction of around €153m in direct and indirect payments over last two years, plus another €36m in 2011.
And dentists have seen their income shrink as the budget for treating medical card-holders was cut by 30pc. Fewer people are also having regular dental treatments because of cuts in PRSI benefits.
So it may finally be time for hospital consultants to feel the financial pain.