HSE has no evidence Mahony’s €45,000 from private fees

Holles Street master told HSE payment relates to group practice for semi-private patients

Dr Rhona Mahony, master of the National Maternity Hospital,  has insisted a payment she received related to fees for seeing private patients. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Dr Rhona Mahony, master of the National Maternity Hospital, has insisted a payment she received related to fees for seeing private patients. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times

Fri, Dec 20, 2013, 09:17

The Health Service Executive has said it has not received any documentary evidence from master of the National Maternity Hospital Dr Rhona Mahony to explain the source of a €45,000 unauthorised private allowance she was receiving.

At the Dáil’s Public Accounts Committee yesterday, a senior official from the HSE’s internal audit unit said it requested details from the hospital on a number of occasions over recent weeks, such as pay slips or other documentation which would provide a basis for the payment.

But Geraldine Smith, the HSE’s assistant national director of operations, told the committee that the executive had not received any material to date.

“As of now, I have received no documentation and I don’t think we’re going to get any,” she said.

A HSE audit showed that Dr Mahony received an unauthorised allowance of €45,000, in addition to her publicly funded salary of €183,500.

Three other senior employees at the hospital were also in receipt of private allowances ranging from €30,000 to €39,000.

Dr Mahony has insisted the payment she received related to fees for seeing private patients.

She has consistently maintained her remuneration as master has been “strictly in line” with her contract and was exactly in compliance with public service pay requirements for her position.

The Irish Times understands the National Maternity Hospital met the HSE on November 28th and said the €45,000 payment related to a group practice at the hospital for semi-private patients.

Group practice
The hospital said medical fees relating to this group practice were paid into a single account, from which a proportion was distributed to a number of consultants and gynaecologists.

Tax was paid where applicable, it added, and the group was overseen by a council of four trustees.

In response, the HSE is understood to have sought documentation to support these claims, such as audited accounts, payslips or P60s between 2010 and 2013.

The Irish Times understands that the HSE sought documentary evidence on a number of occasions, setting a deadline of December 12th for records to be furnished. However, as of yesterday’s meeting of the Public Accounts Committee, no such records had been received by the HSE.

The HSE has also sought information from the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin in relation to unauthorised private allowances.

An audit report states that the master of the Rotunda, Dr Sam Coulter Smith, received a privately funded allowance of €60,000, in addition to a publicly funded salary of €183,500.

The HSE and Department of Health, meanwhile, faced accusations at yesterday’s Public Accounts Committee meeting that it knew about unauthorised allowances within the health sector for years, but avoided taking any action to cease the practice.

Committee chairman John McGuinness said authorities “didn’t do their job” in following closely how up to €2.2 billion in taxpayers’ money had been spent by health agencies.

“Up to now, nothing was done to bring them into line. Now, we’re faced with the consequences of all this,” he said.

“Everyone in the system was wrong. They didn’t deal with it, didn’t sort it out and allowed agencies to more or less do what they wanted.”

However, the Department of Health’s secretary general, Dr Ambrose McLoughlin, told the committee there was no evidence of informal arrangements with agencies to allow for top-up payments.

Overall, committee members were told the latest audit by the HSE into top-up payments shows a total of 13 voluntary hospitals and health agencies have collectively paid more than €900,000 in additional remuneration and benefits to executives from funds drawn from unknown private sources.

However, many more so-called section 38 agencies – organisations which provide health or care services on behalf of the State – may not be fully complying with public pay rules.

Only eight agencies have been verified as being in compliance with pay policies. The remainder have various outstanding issues which remain to be resolved.

Deadline issued
Barry O’Brien, the HSE’s head of human resources, said all such agencies were being given a deadline of January 31st, 2014, to formally comply with public sector pay rules.

In cases where senior staff are being paid more than has been authorised, he said hospitals and health agencies will be in a position to make a business case to the Government to pay these staff extra,

In total, about 34 staff have received these top-up payments. Mr O’Brien noted that “99.9 per cent” of public servants were being paid in accordance with Government policy.