The Health Service Executive (HSE) has been forced to remove from its website details of State payments running into billions of euro to thousands of primary care health professionals.
It follows the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) threatening enforcement action against the HSE unless payment details to individual dentists through the medical card system were removed from the website.
Senior Compliance Officer with the DPC, Nicola Coogan told the HSE it was a serious issue and it was the intention of the Office to take whatever enforcement steps it deemed necessary if the Primary Care Reimbursement Service (PCRS) payments for dentists were not removed.
In response, the HSE has not only removed details of payments to dentists but to other health professionals contracted to the HSE: GPs, pharmacists and ophthalmologists. The HSE has removed payment details for the years 2011, 2010 and 2009.
The HSE confirmed yesterday that it has ceased publication of PCRS payments, which were routinely published each year. Details of payments to the health professionals totalling almost €1 billion for 2012, the latest figures, have not been published on the HSE website as a result of the DPC action.
The threatened action by the DPC followed a complaint to it from the chief executive of the Irish Dental Union, Fintan Hourihan who argued there was no statutory basis or public interest justification for the publication of the payments.
In a letter released through the Freedom of Information Act, Mr Hourihan wrote that his members “are concerned that they have not given consent” to the publication.
Patrick Burke of the HSE's PCRS service, in a letter to the Data Protection Commissioner said it was publishing the information in the interests of transparency "so that the taxpayer is aware of the expenditure of public funds to dental practices".