Saturday 20 January 2018

Reilly was questioned by HSE over doctors' €2.5m outlay on failed website

Former GP: Children’s Minister James Reilly
Former GP: Children’s Minister James Reilly
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Children's Minister James Reilly was among a number of senior members of the Irish Medical Organisation who were questioned by the HSE on how more than €2.5 million of taxpayers' money was spent on a failed website.

Ten years ago, Dr Reilly was both a GP in north Dublin and a president of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), which had received substantial sums of money from the Department of Health since 2000 for a failed health website and practice development projects.

Dr Reilly's role in talks with the HSE in November 2005, when officials indicated they wanted to set up a retrospective review of how the money was spent, is revealed in newly-released correspondence. The publication of the correspondence has objected to by the doctors' union over many years.

A review which was due to be carried out has never been published due to a threat by the union that it would breach confidentiality and leave the HSE liable to court action.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny, who was Opposition leader in the Dail at the time, was among those aggressively pursuing how the money was spent and he questioned former Health Minister Mary Harney about the pay-outs in October 2005.

The correspondence, which could only be partially released revealed:

  • Former IMO chief George McNeice wrote to the HSE in February 2006 objecting to the decision to stop all payments to the union. He warned the union would have to hold the Department of Health liable for costs incurred and would be seeking legal advice for breaches of agreement.
  • He refused a request by the HSE to provide the names of individual doctors and individuals who were paid with the money for practice development work, saying the information was private and confidential.
  • The IMO received payments of €996,000 to the end of 2001, €375,000 in 2002 and €660,000 in 2004 from the Department of Health for the website which was launched in 2004 and was intended to give unbiased information to the public. It closed in 2005.
  • Payments ranging from €125,000 to €250,000 were made to the union on several years for practice development projects which it outsourced to unnamed doctors.
  • The funding came from savings generated by a scheme which incentivised doctors to prescribe cheaper drugs for patients.
  • A senior HSE official told the IMO in December 2005 that he had still not received a proper response to demands for full information on payments.

A spokesman for Dr Reilly said he was not able to provide a response yesterday.

Asked whether any money had been refunded, a spokesman for the IMO said yesterday: "In respect of and practice development, the IMO and the HSE agreed the scope of projects, funding and reporting protocols, all of which were aimed at developing, supporting and promoting general practice. When the funding ceased the projects came to an end."

Irish Independent

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