HSE chief Tony O'Brien yesterday addressed a health leaders' summit in Madrid for which he was paid a fee by a major supplier to Irish hospitals.
The HSE did not disclose the size of the fee but said it will be donated by Mr O' Brien to charity.
Mr O'Brien, who is also chair of the task force charged with tackling the A&E trolley crisis in hospitals across Ireland, flew to Madrid to speak about the Irish health service at a summit organised by Acelity. The multi-national company has a plant in Athlone and supplies advanced wound care therapies.
The Spanish summit coincided with worsening new waiting list figures showing 13,176 people are facing delays of more than 18 months to see a specialist. Another 2,244 public patients are waiting for an operation past this cut-off date.
And nurses at St Vincent's Hospital are also threatening industrial action from Tuesday in frustration at A&E overcrowding. Mr O'Brien earlier this week said that, as part of his new role as chair of the task force, he will visit all A&E departments which suffer overcrowding across the State.
Asked if he should be visiting A&Es, instead of addressing a conference in Madrid, a HSE spokesman said he has "visited eight hospitals up to this point - he has arranged to visit a further nine next week. As stated at the outset, he will have visited all of the relevant hospitals within a three-week period. This will be completed within that timeframe.
"Obviously his schedule is dependent on the availability of key personnel in hospital groups and individual hospitals."
The next meeting of the task force on A&Es is next Monday.
The HSE spokesman added that the event Mr O'Brien travelled to was an important European conference on the subject of inter alia, clinical pathways. "The event has been accredited as a learning event by the association of surgeons in Great Britain and Ireland. Mr O'Brien was invited last March to address European experts in this field on the experiences of Ireland in developing clinical pathways," he added.
"He is also there to meet and learn from experts in this field - which he is doing by way of listening to the other speakers and also through individual side-line engagements."
The conference was sponsored by Acelity. It is also covering his expenses, including an overnight stay in Madrid.
"The summit organisers are covering his expenses, similar to the other speakers. There is no cost to the Irish taxpayer. As with other speakers, there is an honorarium paid. Mr O'Brien's own policy in relation to any honorariums paid to him for such events is that these are donated to charity once received," the HSE added.
A spokesman for Acelity said it is the leader in wound care technologies and this is one of three summits the company is organising. Other summits have already been held in Chicago and Rome.
"We are using our leadership position to say we can bring together everyone who has a stake in health care to get together to talk about trends, the latest advancement and innovations. It is a platform to bring people together," it said.
"We have people speaking from the administration side. It is an opportunity to share best practice. Sometimes these chronic wounds can be very expensive to treat. Tony O'Brien could bring his perspective as an administrator."
Former Irish rugby star Alan Quinlan will deliver a motivational talk today on behalf of Laya health insurers.