Wednesday 20 February 2019

Private eyes are on the trail of doctors instead of cheating husbands

(Stock photo)
(Stock photo)
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

They are more usually found snooping on cheating husbands or checking out dodgy personal injury claims - but earlier this year private detectives were covertly tracking the movements of some of our leading hospital consultants.

The extreme measure was aimed at finding out if the doctor was breaching his contract and lining his pockets with lucrative income from patients in a plush private hospital when he should have been on public ward.

It would be farcical if it was not so serious for patients, tens of thousands of whom suffer on public waiting lists.

The move was sanctioned to provide ammunition to the State which is defending a claim for back pay by consultants which could cost €700m.

Doctors claim the 2008 contract was breached and they never received the salaries they signed up to.

The State is clearly wanting to retaliate saying the terms and conditions are also not be adhered to by some specialists who are spending beyond their allotted 20-30pc quota on private patients.

The truth is it should not come not have come to this, although the State will argue its duty is to defend the public purse and mitigate the payout.

And the public and private mix of consultants is not being properly monitored so reliable data is not available on whether a particular doctor is treating an excess of private patients.

The doctors' representative bodies, the HSE and the Department of Health were unable to agree a formula. The task should fall to a clinical director, a consultant who is paid extra to take on a leadership role, but no reports have been produced to show how much they are performing this duty.

The vast majority of consultants are doing more than their contracted hours in public hospitals but that is not good enough reason to put a proper monitoring system in place.

It means when 'Prime Time Investigates' found some flagrant breaches by doctors, all consultants risked being tarred by the same brush.

The inertia in the Department of Health and the lack of implementation by the HSE as seen in the CervicalCheck scandal is evident here also.

Other factors influence the blind eye being turned.

Hospitals are finding it increasingly difficult to attract some specialists so they are not going to be overly strict if a consultant is missing off-site for longer than he should be.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has some questions to answer about the failure to collect routine information on the whereabouts of consultants who are still among our best paid public servants.

When he was health minister in 2015, the former HSE chief Tony O'Brien wrote to Mr Varadkar saying the limiting of a certain percentage of a doctor's work had become "a farce in practice".

It is yet more unfinished business from his time in health which has come back to haunt the Taoiseach. With a court case imminent with massive financial implications for the State health officials are having to resort to private eyes to do the work that should be routine. The record of this Government in managing the health service is growing increasingly poor and no amount of spin can hide the damage that is being done to so many people who are depending for their care on the public system. Hospital consultants too have much to defend in taking this action.

Irish Independent

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