HEALTH Service Executive (HSE) threats to cut funding to 36 non-compliant voluntary hospitals and agencies – including the Rotunda and Holles Street Maternity hospitals – have failed to materialise, despite the passing of its stated deadline for them to fall into line.
At the height of the CRC pensions and top-ups scandal, during Public Accounts Committee (PAC) hearings, the HSE "clearly gave the impression" that January 31 was the deadline for all Section 38 hospitals and agencies to be fully compliant in terms of pay and top-up allowances.
It threatened strongly at the time that agencies which failed to comply with the stated pay policy for senior executives would face cuts to their funding, which was met with widespread approval of PAC members.
However, the HSE is now saying the end of January deadline was merely to get a signal of intent from the agencies to eventually comply with the HSE's pay policy and that full compliance could take several months to achieve.
The HSE has granted St Vincent's Hospital in Dublin until March 31 to comply with its stated pay policy for its CEO Nicholas Jermyn and other senior executives. Despite them already taking cuts of €18,000, masters of some of the countries largest maternity hospitals, including Dr Sam Coulter Smith of the Rotunda and Dr Rhona Mahony of Holles Street, face further reductions if they are to be compliant.
However, some at the top of the HSE are reluctant to actually implement cuts as they fear the agencies will ultimately pass on the pain to patients.
HSE Director General Tony O'Brien said the threat to patient care is "the great dilemma" for the HSE, but that he cannot allow the controversial top-up system to continue.
Members of the PAC are less than impressed with the slipping of the compliance and called on the HSE to provide them with an urgent update on the situation.
PAC member and Fine Gael TD Simon Harris told the Sunday Independent: "My very clear understanding was that the end of January was the deadline to be compliant.
"Now we are told it was just a deadline for the agencies to signal a willingness to be compliant. That is very different."
The fresh controversy comes as one of the activities of another Section 38 agency, Stewarts Hospital in Palmerstown, Dublin, has come to the attention of the HSE and the PAC. In correspondence to the PAC – seen by the Sunday Independent – the HSE confirmed it is investigating a series of breaches in pay and governance practices at the hospital.
Before Christmas, Stewarts publicly insisted the €175,000 pay and €18,000 allowance paid to its CEO Gerry Mulholland were "in compliance".
But following a meeting with the HSE on January 9, the letter states: "It was confirmed by Stewarts that it had no approval, and had not requested one, to fill the position of CEO."
The letter added: "It also confirmed it did not have approval to fill this position at a specific rate of pay".
The HSE said it will "continue to work with Stewarts until all matters, including those indicated, are satisfactorily resolved".