Number of consultants lose right to charge for private care
A number of high-earning hospital consultants yesterday lost their right to charge private patients after they failed to pay a financial penalty.
The ban was imposed on a number of specialists in public hospitals around the country after they refused to pay a fine for treating more private patients than they are allowed to under their work contract.
In June, the doctors were given three months to pay thousands of euro each into a research fund at their hospital.
The HSE last night refused to identify the hospital consultants involved and also refused to disclose the hospitals where they work. Between five and 10 consultants had their workload audited by the HSE in recent days.
It is understood Limerick Regional Hospital, Cork University Hospital and Our Lady's Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin are among the hospitals where individual doctors were breaching their private patient quotas.
A spokeswoman for the HSE said yesterday that a small number of consultants had been advised "that because they have breached their contract by treating too many fee-paying patients they are no longer entitled to charge for their services".
However, this does not prevent them from treating any private patient for free. It was unclear last night if any doctor refused to take on any clinics or refused to see new patients after the ban was imposed.
It is understood some of the consultants, who are on salaries of about €180,000, topped up their income, by another €200,000 in some cases, with private fees.
But consultants agreed to limit their private practice to 20pc-30pc of their workload in 2008.
The doctors were among a group of 70-plus consultants who were given a three-month ultimatum to pay the financial penalty last June. The deadline expired for about 20 doctors on Thursday.
The matter is expected to come to a head, and may end up in the courts, if any of the consultants who lost their private practice rights yesterday attempts to submit a bill for the care of their patients.
The VHI said it was unaware of the row. It was unable to give any advice to its insured members who may be caught in the middle.
The Medical Council, the doctors' regulatory body, confirmed that consultants who lose their private practice rights still have a duty of care to their patients.