HSE director general Tony O’Brien made the claim at the latest Dáil public accounts committee, warning that the situation is contributing to surging public waiting lists and that unless action is taken the hospital group involved may be starved of future funding.
Speaking during a meeting with the cross-party group, Mr O’Brien said up to 56% of consultants at St Vincent’s Private Hospital “have contracts which do not allow them” to work there.
He said these highly paid doctors are instead meant to be limited to working at the linked public St Vincent’s University Hospital, which is funded to the tune of €206m a year by the taxpayer.
In the aftermath of the recent top-ups scandal and HSE concerns over whether doctors are staying within their contract constraints, Mr O’Brien said officials became aware of the situation at the Dublin facilities.
DISCOVER MORE CONTENT LIKE THIS
However, despite seeking answers from the St Vincent’s Hospital Group for “eight months”, he said the hospital has refused to resolve the situation.
Mr O’Brien said when he and his colleagues attempted to get the names of the doctors involved, they were given “spurious reasons” relating to data protection despite the fact “anyone could go onto St Vincent’s website and pull down the names, I have a copy of it in my bag”.
He described the private wing of St Vincent’s relationship with the public facility as “parasitic”, and told Fine Gael TD Patrick O’Donovan “it may not be a viable private hospital”.
Mr O’Brien said the previous chair of the St Vincent’s Hospital Group had made some progress “before his removal from office by the group’s shareholders” last year, while his replacement James Menton has “not been as forthcoming as I would like”.
When asked what actions the HSE can take to ensure doctors whose contracts say they must focus on public patients actually do so, he said if the issue is not resolved, St Vincent’s could be starved of additional funding and that a “special administration” may need to be put in place.
The comments came during a seven-hour meeting with the most senior members of the HSE on whether public funds are being protected and spent appropriately by the health service. Among the other issues raised was an ongoing failure of the HSE to ensure external consultancy contracts given to outside firms to perform specific tasks are being tendered for to prevent any potential conflict of interest or unnecessary over-payment risks.
After Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy stated that “the HSE’s internal assurance process is failing to highlight the true level of non-compliant procurement that is occurring”, Sinn Féin deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald noted one audit which found 36% of examined contracts underwent no such checks.
HSE chief financial officer Stephen Mulvany said the body is planning to phase in a system to ensure full compliance within three years.
However, when asked by Ms McDonald he said “can we expect full compliance [at that time]? No”.
The PAC also heard that €150m is being lost to the taxpayer every year because doctors are failing to properly fill in insurance forms, and that while a tax risk assessment found the HSE may be liable for just “1%” of unpaid taxes this still amounts to millions of euro.
The HSE officials also confirmed the investigation into the Áras Attracta abuse scandal will be completed next month before publication in July.