The disclosure that Dr Rhona Mahony, the master of the National Maternity Hospital, was paid a top-up of €53,009 in a CEO allowance, and €45,000 in private patient fees, in addition to her salary of €183,562 has sparked considerable public uneasiness.
She insists what she was paid “was strictly in line” with her contract, and in compliance with the public pay policy in relation to her position.
While many people are unlikely to have much sympathy for her in the circumstances, she does have a point in complaining that she had been “vilified” by being singled out. She was only one of many people receiving top-ups to their salaries, thereby allegedly breaching the public pay policy.
At the Young Fine Gael national conference in Waterford over the weekend Taoiseach Enda Kenny expressed annoyance that over half the country’s voluntary hospitals, or health agencies, in receipt of government money have not been complying with public pay policy. In fact, the report commissioned by the HSE was only able to conclude that 27% of the hospitals even claimed to be compliant.
The Government insists voluntary hospitals funded under section 38 of the Health Act are not permitted to supplement approved rates of remuneration with either public or private funding, but some people contend these employees are not public servants and are therefore not subject to pay scales of the public service. There is a glaring need for transparency on this issue.
The top-ups were not confined to senior medical staff. Some hospital managers had been receiving extra contributions equal to half of their salary. In the past three years, 29 senior managers at voluntary hospitals have had more than €1m paid into their pension funds from the public purse.
Issues have also been raised about how private payments are funded. The chief executive of Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital had an annual top-up of €30,000 funded by profits from shops on the hospital grounds.
There are also questions about payments to others from hospital parking fees. The fees being charged for parking at many hospitals are exorbitant. It is a disgrace that people visiting very sick relatives are being exploited in such a shameless way.
The Taoiseach has insisted that the hospitals and health agencies that did not respond to the HSE’s inquiries in relation to top-ups would be asked to account for their payment policies in full. Their failure to respond to the HSE query was a contemptible show of arrogance in itself. This will be compounded if it turns out that any of those hospitals or agencies were violating the government’s pay policy.
The Dáil Public Accounts Committee is due to begin hearings on the whole issue of such top-ups on Wednesday. The need for this inquiry is patently obvious, because the HSE itself does not seem to know the true extent of the practice.
In the circumstances it is very difficult for the public, or the media, to understand what is really happening. We need clarity without further delay.
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