Editorial: Salary top-ups fiasco will cost taxpayer dearly
Employment lawyers are expected to be busy people in the coming months as senior health staff, whose salary top-ups face the axe, take advice on where they stand. The senior managers and consultants are employed by Section 38 hospitals and agencies which are funded by the HSE. They are public servants but not direct employees of the HSE.
But the HSE now says most of these top-ups should stop and has given the hospitals and agencies until July 1 to sort it out.
It's yet another fine mess for the HSE and some of these employees may seek legal redress to protect their payments. The Department of Health has added to the mix with a strongly-worded circular instructing that any unauthorised money be recouped. This could potentially leave hospital consultants and other senior managers liable for huge personal bills. It remains to be seen if it will be pursued to the point of recoupment and whether the hospitals or agencies will settle for some compromise. Either way it should not have come to this. The HSE and the Department of Health have only themselves to blame for poor oversight over the years.
The Irish Independent, which was first to reveal the breakdown of top-ups to Section 38 agencies such as the Central Remedial Clinic, reported that health chiefs agreed to remain tight-lipped after being informed about the generous top-ups in 2008. At that point 34 disability organisations were paying salary extras of up to 15pc in many cases .
However after some agencies pleaded with the HSE to stay quiet because of commercial sensitivities the information was never made public. The HSE provided assurances that it would be treated with the utmost confidentiality.
The current debacle will see more public money spent on legal fees at the time when patients and those who depend on the health service are suffering cutbacks. Yet again nobody in the HSE or Department of Health will be held to account for the lack of action. It is yet another sorry chapter to add to countless others.