Saturday 17 August 2019

HSE forks out €8m every month on staff lump sums

Taxpayer-funded service paid two consultants €363k each last year - despite ongoing funding crisis

Tony O’Brien, director general of the HSE. Photo: Philip Leonard
Tony O’Brien, director general of the HSE. Photo: Philip Leonard

Mark O'Regan

Taxpayer-funded retirement lump sum payments for HSE staff are now running at €8m a month, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

And two leading medical consultants each received €363,000 lump sum 'goodbye money' from the cash- strapped HSE last year.

The revelation comes days after the HSE warned that its record €14bn budget for next year may not be enough to put the health service on a sustainable financial footing.

The new budget - an increase of €458m on 2016 - works out at more than €27,000 per minute to run the Irish health service.

New figures also show the top 25 retirement payments made last year to retiring consultants totalled €6.2m.

This means a range of high-level medics, including psychiatrists, surgeons, physicians, gynaecologists and anaesthetists received, on average, €250,378 when they retired from the health service. Latest data shows the total value of benefits paid to retiring HSE staff is now costing €95.4m a year.

In 2015, some 2,093 people left the health service, each walking away with an average payment of €45,619.

In 2014, some 1,975 staff members retired, with total payments totalling €87.7m.

This means each person received an average payout of €44,445.

And in 2013 lump sum payouts came to €61m, with 1,520 retirements.

Each employee was entitled to an average lump sum worth €40,163.

Records show the cost of retirement benefits hit a record high of €177m in 2012, when 3,372 ended their service.

Meanwhile, it has emerged a clinical director of psychiatric services, and a 'unclassified' consultant, shared the top spot in the retirement 'payout league' last year, each receiving €363,523.

Another Dublin-based adult psychiatrist secured a pension boost of €317,864. And two other psychiatrists shared a retirement lump sum pot of €522,265 between them.

A psychiatrist specialising in geriatric care enjoyed a payment of €195,255.

Three 'general physicians' shared a total lump sum pot of €716,914.

A radiologist based in the west of Ireland received the lowest payment of €167,766.

An orthopaedic surgeon received €276,840, while a physiatrist specialising in learning disability topped up his retirement package to the tune of €227,558.

A trawl through official records reveals the largest lump sum payment to a retiring consultant in the past five years was €414,910, paid to a psychiatrist in 2011.

Confirmation of these large payouts come as hospital consultants gear up for a legal showdown over the existing two-tier pay structure for senior doctors.

The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) is determined to challenge what it maintains are "discriminatory" salary scales.

It says these have been imposed on new-entrant consultants who have the same duties and responsibilities as their colleagues.

According to the Pensions Authority, the first €200,000 of a pension lump sum payable is tax free.

This is a total lifetime limit even if lump sums are taken at different times and from different pension arrangements.

Lump sums between €200,000 and €500,000 are taxed at 20pc, with any balance over this amount taxed at the marginal rate and subject to the Universal Social Charge.

In a statement, the HSE said that appropriate tax has been applied to all retirement payments processed under the Retirement Benefits Payments function since January 2011.

The health service this week warned a record €14bn national service plan for 2017 may not be enough to meet competing demands such as hospital expansions, the costs of new drugs and new pay costs.

Director General Tony O'Brien said our increasing population - and the ageing profile of patients - would be key factors in determining the HSE's capacity to carry out its remit.

Sunday Independent

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