The HSE cannot name and shame the consultants whose failure to sign off on forms is costing the State €61m a year — because doing so could amount to defamation.
The warning is contained in an official report sent by health service chiefs to the Oireachtas public accounts committee, which discussed the issue last week.
Under current rules, the cost of treating private patients in public hospitals is claimed back from insurance companies after the consultant involved signs off on the relevant files.
However, paperwork delays are costing the State €61m a year.
In an attempt to address the situation, last September the HSE issued guidelines informing doctors they must sign off on files within 14 days of treating a patient.
However, average sign-off delays last year stood at 44 days, and some hospitals reporting delays of over 70 days, up from previous years.
In a submission to the PAC committee, the HSE said it had been told naming the doctors involved could amount to defamation.
According to health service management, such an approach could leave the State open to lawsuits from individual consultants; claims of breach of confidentiality; and data protection issues.
The legal advice is likely to lead to yet more anger over the fact that, despite the health service being in dire financial straits, vital funds are being lost due to administrative delays.
During to the PAC meeting on the matter last week, HSE director designate Tony O’Brien was forced to defend himself against claims that current deterrents on the issue amounted to little more than “gentle coaxing”.
An internal HSE audit revealed by the Irish Examiner last year showed that among the most worrying problems causing the delays are:
*Doctors routinely ignoring “urgent” letters from management;
*Putting the wrong insurance firm on the files;
*Not filling out invoices correctly.
As such, money which should be easily accessible by the State is instead being written off as bad debt, with taxpayers ultimately asked to cover the costs.
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