Sunday 16 December 2018

Public funds are still misused to pay salary top-ups, HSE admits

Leinster House (Stock picture)
Leinster House (Stock picture)
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Salary top-ups are being paid to 320 staff in HSE-funded agencies in breach of public pay rules, it was revealed yesterday.

The misuse of funds has been uncovered in 15 agencies which receive taxpayers' money to provide a health service.

The funds are used without authority to boost the wages of staff.

The misuse of public funds, which was supposed to be stamped out, was admitted by HSE officials when they appeared before the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) yesterday. The HSE's head of human resources Rosarii Mannion said the breaches of public pay policy range in scale but some are "quite serious".

The top-ups were found in Section 38 agencies. These are among 2,700 organisations paid €3.8bn by the HSE to provide disability, mental health and hospital services.

Ms Mannion said at one point the HSE had 555 "business cases" from agencies to allow the top-ups. It had dealt with 235, she said.

The top-ups came to the attention of the HSE after she wrote to the agencies and following an internal audit.

"We are working very constructively with these agencies and it is not punitive," she said.

The HSE was called before the PAC following another damning report from the Comptroller and Auditor General.

It found the HSE was paying nearly €4bn to 2,270 outside agencies, including hospitals, disability organisations and other services - but failing to track how the money was spent in all cases.

In some instances, agencies had not provided up-to-date audited accounts.

There was also a lack of feedback to the HSE on how well these organisations are governed and run.

Some of the agencies have been at the centre of previous scandals over the misuse of funding, ranging from top-ups being paid to staff to extravagant spending on personal lifestyle items.

Questioned on the HSE's performance, HSE chief Tony O'Brien said it did not have an "army" of people to audit every agency.

In July, Health Minister Simon Harris called on the St John of God order, which is funded by the HSE to provide disability care, to repay up to €12m it gave in payments to senior executives.

Senior HSE officials told the committee it was still working with the agency but a decision on whether there would be a repayment would not be made until the end of the year.

Meanwhile, members of the committee accused the HSE of being deliberately evasive in its responses relating to aspects of the case of 'Grace' - a young girl at the centre of allegations of abuse in care.

Irish Independent

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