Quarter of all consultants in breach of new contract deals
'Too many private patients treated'
AROUND 400 consultants are breaching their contractual obligations to treat a certain percentage of public patients.
They were given new public-private contracts worth up to €220,000 annually on strict condition of either an 80:20 mix (80pc public patients, 20pc private) or a 70:30 mix (70pc public, 30pc private).
But according to new information supplied by the HSE, a quarter (around 400) of the 1,633 consultants on the new contracts are breaching these conditions by treating too many private patients.
Some consultants are going far in excess of their contractual limit for in-patient work.
In the HSE Dublin North East Area, one consultant in general medicine is spending all of his or her time on private work, despite a contract limit of 30pc.
In the HSE West area, a consultant in radiology is spending 84pc of his or her time on private-patient work despite a contract limit of 20pc. And in the HSE South Area, another consultant in radiology has a private workload of 45pc despite a contract limit of 30pc.
It is the first time the public-private workloads of individual consultants have been released.
The names of all the consultants had been requested by the Public Accounts Committee but the HSE said it could only give the data in anonymous form due to data protection issues.
Committee chairman Fine Gael TD Bernard Allen said the data showed that at least one-in-four consultants were in breach of their public-private contract. "It is a matter we intend to pursue vigorously to ensure those who are paid from the public purse deliver on the contract they signed up on," he said.
It comes after the HSE revealed earlier this year that it had sent warning letters to up to 85 consultants about their private-practice levels.
Those who fail to comply with their contracts will be given up to nine months to change before sanctions kick in. The private-practice statistics were created by the HSE last week from its information management system -- but the period they cover in 2009 has not been supplied.
The Irish Hospital Consultants Association (IHCA) strongly disputed the accuracy of the figures supplied by the HSE. Its assistant secretary general, Donal Duffy, said the tables supplied included a figure showing that a consultant was allowed to do "771pc" private work.
"It is also suggested that a number of consultants are only doing private work in our public hospitals, a concept that is particularly difficult to imagine," he said.
Mr Duffy said the HSE was trying to use the public-private issue as a "smokescreen" to cover up cutbacks such as the closure of 900 patient beds last year.
"It's fair to assume that the vast majority of those beds were public beds, so the capacity to get public patients through was severely restricted," he said.
Health Minister Mary Harney has consistently hailed the consultants' contract as one of her biggest achievements.
She gave approval for the payment of salaries of up to €216,000 per year to consultants in return for longer working hours and proper supervision of their work.
The IHCA plans to send a submission to the Public Accounts committee on the issue of public-private work.