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Dublin: 13 °C Wednesday 23 April, 2014

Column: Paying top-ups to senior staff raises serious questions about hospital operations

There’s something wrong in the system when we are topping-up hospital executives’ pay while clamping patients in hospital car parks for money, writes Catherine Murphy TD.

Catherine Murphy TD

THE REVELATIONS IN recent days regarding the substantial top-ups being paid to senior staff members in publicly funded hospitals has raised serious questions regarding the operation of some aspects of the hospital system in this country – how we collect money and where it goes.

We have got to ask questions about the extent of these top-ups and the way in which they are funded bearing in mind that most, if not all, of these institutions have large fundraising departments and everyday many people are engaged in fundraising campaigns across the country to ensure that vital services are kept available to those who need them most.

Top-ups

People are surely not engaging in funding campaigns in order to supplement a senior staff member’s income of almost a quarter of a million, in the case of the Holles Street’s National Maternity Hospital, to the tune of a further €45,000.

People deserve clarity around the funding issues highlighted by this story.

It is worth noting that these revelations regarding the top-ups had to come to public attention by way of journalistic exposés and the use of the parliamentary question system – at a significant cost to the Exchequer – rather than the information being readily available as you would imagine it should be for publicly funded institutions.

Transparency

This draws to light another recent issue, namely the Freedom of Information Bill and highlights the need for an easily accessible, transparent system for obtaining information if we are to have transparent public institutions.

Another hospital operational issue was brought to my attention by constituents over the issue of car clamping in public hospital car parks and again, I had to table a parliamentary question and a number of questions to the Department of Health to get information.

I sought clarity regarding the ownership of the car parks in some of our hospitals and also asked if the Department would furnish to me the terms and conditions of any contracts they had entered into with car park operators.

Generating funds

In one reply I was informed by the HSE that “car parking charges were introduced as part of a series of measures to ensure that the cost of provision of such services was not taken from a hospitals operating budget. The income generated from car parks is an important stream of funding to the hospital to ensure the continued provision of services in the hospital”.

The reply also detailed a list of the hospitals and the respective car park owners and in a majority of the hospitals it is clear that the HSE themselves both own and operate the car park. In some of the hospitals, I discovered that the Board of the hospital owns the car park. In many cases the Board of a hospital will be made up of some of the senior consultants.

With regards to the terms and conditions of any contracts I was informed by the HSE via reply to my parliamentary questions that they could not disclose any information because the terms and conditions of a contract are “commercial sensitive information”.

I would argue that these institutions which can collect money by clamping patients and pay large top-ups to consultants are publicly funded and therefore the public have a right to know the extent of any contracts entered into, and particularly those dealing with revenue raising issues.

Catherine Murphy is an Independent TD  from Leixlip in County Kildare.

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