'Top up' payments worth €4.1m being paid by HSE
Controversial top up payments totalling €4.1 million a year to a coterie of managers in voluntary hospitals are still being paid by the HSE, it was revealed today.
The "bonanza" of top-ups to 225 senior managers occurred because of "seriously inadequate" management controls within the HSE, its Director General Tony O'Brien has told the Public Accounts Committee.
The special sitting of the committee heard that some of the allowances had been in place since 1996, but Mr O'Brien said he considered any additional payment, either from public funds or from private funds to be in breach of HSE pay policy.
Documents submitted by the HSE at the committee detailed the individual agencies who claimed they were in compliance with the State's policy on pay and allowances.
Just seven of the 43 voluntary hospitals and agencies, referred to as Section 38 agencies, said they were in "full compliance" with that pay policy. However, Mr O'Brien said he did not accept all of those agencies were compliant, the committee heard.
Under questioning from Fine Gael TD Aine Collins, Dr Geraldine Smith, Assistant National Director with the HSE, who was the author of the damning Internal Report which revealed the payments, said it was in 2008 that problems were first identified.
"But that was 2008, and it is now 2013 and we have a serious problem with the Budget of the HSE," Ms Collins said.
In response, Mr O'Brien said her point was "well made," but he said the job before him is to ensure compliance with State pay policy.
"If the payments were stopped, then services would stop. It is about ensuring compliance," Mr O'Brien replied.
Mr O'Brien said that just 9 of the 22 recommendations included in the internal audit report, despite the report outlining a deadline of last June for 19 of them to be acted upon. Mr O'Brien said a further 8 are being progressed and the remaining five have been deemed to have been superseded.
Fianna Fail's Sean Fleming asked did Mr O'Brien consider the institutions who breached the pay policy to be tax compliant. Mr O'Brien said such institutions have to produce a tax clearance cert each year, but that he had no other basis to judge whether they are or aren't tax compliant.
Mr O'Brien outlined that institutions had been contacted at least seven times between March 2011 and last month to ensure they were complying with the stated pay policy. He also said as of yet many have yet to confirm they are in compliance with that policy.
In response, Mr Fleming queried how often these hospitals and agencies are being paid by the HSE, and Mr O'Brien said some of the larger hospitals receive funding "every couple of days." Smaller hospitals would be paid less frequently. Mr Fleming said the HSE should remind them of their lack of compliance before they are paid.
Daniel McConnell, Political Correspondent