The Government has denied claims that details of lucrative payment top-ups for hospital bosses were “hidden under the carpet” until after it had implemented pay and allowance cuts for lower paid frontline workers.
A spokesman for Taoiseach Enda Kenny said he only became aware of the payments in recent days, despite documents released under the Freedom of Information Act showing the Department of Health knew of the issue since May.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin told the Dáil there was a “vow of silence” on the issue until after cuts to public sector pay and allowances were introduced.
Mental health workers had lost their €8 per night sleepover allowance while others had footwear and clothing allowances cut under a review of all payments by Brendan Howlin, the public expenditure minister.
But while these were considered “fair game” he said, the “premier league allowances” to their bosses were tolerated.
“It seems that there was an awareness of these additional top-up allowances but people left well enough alone during the Haddington Road Agreement negotiations and during the minister’s review of allowances,” he said.
Mr Kenny responded that: “The same rules must and will apply to senior managers as those on the frontline.”
He said he did not know when the arrangement dates back to, allowing bosses of a number of state-funded voluntary hospitals to claim extra payments from private sources, such as hospital shops.
However, he said the Government is “attempting to weed out additional sweeteners” in the health service “at a time when any funding — exchequer or private — should be going into the provision of services to patients and not to unsanctioned payments to senior managers.”
Details of the top-up payments only came to light yesterday through a freedom of information request which produced Department of Health files from May.
An internal audit of the payments was carried out by the HSE in the summer, and a spokesperson for Mr Howlin confirmed that he received this in July.
It found that 36 types of allowances were being paid to 191 senior managers at an annual cost of €3.2m.
On Sept 27, both Mr Howlin and Dr Reilly issued a circular to the CEOs of voluntary hospitals, making clear that they could not breach the public service pay cap of €200,000 by supplementing their salaries with non-exchequer sources of funding.
They had up until last night to respond with full details, which the Taoiseach promised would be published on the department’s website and discussed by the Oireachtas committee on health.
He said the Government wanted to get a clear picture of the payments.
“The position is very clear and public pay service agreements should not and cannot be breached by unapproved non-exchequer payments such as those detailed in some of the emerging information,” he said.
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