Sunday 8 December 2019

Doctors left red-faced over golden handshake fiasco

THE beautiful lakes of Killarney have been the magnificent backdrop for the customary picture of the newly installed president of the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO) for many years.

But such is the anxiety over the controversy that has engulfed the doctors' union over a €10m package for its former chief, George McNeice, the IMO may abandon its usual AGM venue this year – even if it has to pay €50,000 to get out of an arrangement with the Hotel Europe.

The embarrassment endured by the union could not have come at a worse time, with the troika urging cuts to the salaries of hospital consultants, moves afoot to force GPs to prescribe cheaper drugs and even more cuts in health spending.

At the same time, GPs are facing another €70m reduction in the fees they get for treating medical card holders this year.

A meeting attended by 150 of the IMO's 5,000 members on Saturday did little to quieten doctors' anger at the union, which charges subscriptions of between €1,200 and €1,400 a year. The main message to rank and file doctors was that it could have been worse.

Kerry-born Mr McNeice, under a watertight deal negotiated in 2003, would have left the union with liabilities of €25m had it not negotiated the deal down to nearly €10m.

The deal was signed off in 2003 by Dr Cormac Macnamara, a wealthy GP from Waterford who died the following year.

He was a highly successful negotiator for fellow medical professionals.

Dr Macnamara claimed others in the remuneration committee agreed to its terms but, according to current IMO president Dr Paul McKeown, these other doctors say they were unaware of what was involved.

The committee appears never to have met, and one doctor described how he was "tapped on the shoulder" and asked if he would be on it, emphasising the ad-hoc arrangement.

The role of the IMO auditors, Hamill Spence and O' Connor, is also to be looked into as part of a forensic audit into what happened.

Last year, draft financial accounts appeared briefly on the IMO website stating that IMO pension schemes were significantly underfunded.

Mr McNeice was earning four times more than the next senior member of staff at the time of his departure. He was the only staff member on a defined benefit pension scheme.

Irish Independent

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