Plan to recoup ‘top-ups’ that breached rules

Department of Health chiefs will attempt to recoup substantial sums of taxpayers’ money used to pay ‘top-ups’ to senior hospital and health agency bosses.

Sources told the Irish Examiner the move is being considered after just one in every four of the groups now under scrutiny said they are complying with existing public pay rules.

Figures released last night by the department show that, of the 44 organisations under the spotlight, just 12 are adhering to vital money-saving ceilings almost two months after the basic information was sought.

A further 24 of the groups, which are part-funded by the HSE and, combined, spend “at least” €3.224m a year on top-ups said they are within the rules, while eight failed to respond.

It is understood the names of these non-compliant facilities will not be released immediately as Government officials want to check the accuracy of the answers and whether some groups are claiming to adhere to the rules when they do not.

However, the department has made it clear the continuation of any ‘top-up’ payments will not be allowed without written approval on a case-by-case basis either from James Reilly, health minister, or Brendan Howlin, public expenditure and reform minister.

In addition, sources said the possibility of recouping previous top-up payments which breached pay rules is also being considered.

“In all other cases the HSE will examine in detail the responses received and address any issue arising with the organisations concerned,” a statement on behalf of Dr Reilly read.

“The HSE’s approach involves a robust process of verification and, as necessary, clarification of the position in each Section 38 organisation. Until such time as the situation in each organisation has been fully verified, none of these organisations can be deemed fully compliant.”

The statement continued that, under existing public pay rules, any of these groups which want to continue paying the top-up fees must make “a business case” for the “unapproved” allowances.

These allowances include a €30,000 fee paid to the CEO of Our Lady’s Hospital for Sick Children in Crumlin, Lorcan Birthistle, out of the facility’s tuck shop income, €206,330 to senior Holles Street officials, including almost €100,000 a year to master Rhona Mahony, and multiple payments to nearly 200 other health bosses.

Meanwhile, the department has also revealed that HSE director general Tony O’Brien will write to all section 39 groups asking for confirmation taxpayers’ money is being spent on services and not top-up management fees.

Section 39 bodies are groups which receive less than half of their funds from the HSE, a figure that regularly exceeds €3bn a year. They are different to section 38 organisations which are at the centre of the current furore and receive most of their funding from the HSE.

Mr O’Brien is due to provide further information on the issue when he appears before the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee on Wednesday.


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