Sinn Féin defends hospital consultants in patients row
A Sinn Féin TD who previously deplored the "culture of deference" to hospital consultants who breach their public contract has now described the decision to put a private detective on them as "disturbing".
The HSE hired the private detectives to trail a number of consultants to see if the number of public and private patients they were treating was in line with their contract.
The HSE has refused to say it if has held any individual hospital consultant to account for spending too much time on fee-paying patients after it had emerged that private detectives had been hired to trail doctors during their working days earlier this year.
The private eyes were sanctioned by three government departments to follow some hospital consultants from public to private hospitals, to determine if they were spending more than their allotted time treating private patients.
This was part of an evidence-gathering exercise to feed into the State's defence of a High Court case for back-money being brought by consultants, which could potentially cost it €700m.
Last year, the RTÉ 'Prime Time' programme found that some hospital consultants were spending hours on private patients - time which they should have been devoting to their public-patient work.
The RTÉ programme followed months of undercover surveillance. It claimed that 14 of the country's public hospitals were not limiting the treatment of private practice to 20pc of their consultants' work.
In one case, a consultant was observed for eight weeks working less than 13 hours a week on average in their public hospital, although it should have been 37 hours.
Following the television expose on consultants treating too many fee-paying patients, Sinn Féin health spokesperson, Louise O'Reilly said some people appeared to be "untouchable".
She said at the time: "I have seen people hauled over the coals for infringements of their contracts that are minuscule in comparison with what we saw on the 'RTÉ Investigates' programme.
"Will the delegates address what appears to be a culture of deference, in which some people are untouchable?"
However, yesterday, after it emerged the HSE had engaged in similar tactics by hiring private detectives to trail a number of consultants, she said the tactic amounted to an "aggressive approach to health staff".
She added: "It is outrageous that the time spent by consultants working in public hospitals is not recorded and accounted for."
But Social Democrats TD Róisín Shortall said it was clear that some consultants are not complying with the terms of their 2008 contract, dividing their public and private practice.
"I can well understand why they were hired. The consultants are not implementing the terms of their contract and it is outrageous they are taking the State to court for back pay.
"The consultants' public and private work should be monitored by clinical directors, who were given a top-up payment to carry out this and it is not being done."
The private detectives were sanctioned by the Departments of Health, Public Expenditure and Finance, the 'Sunday Business Post' reported.