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HSE chief to face questions from TDs over 'top-ups' and health budget overrun

Tony O’Brien is likely to be grilled about the revelations last week that many health agencies and voluntary hospitals are not in compliance with public sector pay policy.

Tony O'Brien
Tony O'Brien
Image: Department of Health

THE DIRECTOR GENERAL of the Health Service Executive (HSE), Tony O’Brien, will come before the Public Accounts Committee later today where he is likely to face questions over so-called top-ups for some senior health executives.

Reports of a larger than expected deficit in the health service’s budget for this year are also expected to be confirmed by O’Brien.

It is reported in the Irish Times this morning that the HSE’s budget overrun for 2013 could be as much as €286 million, nearly double what had been expected.

Meanwhile, confirmation last week that 24 health organisations are not compliant with remuneration and pay policy, with some executives receiving ‘top-ups’ to their salary, are likely to come up.

The PAC is also examining the possibility of bringing some of the CEOs and chairmen of voluntary hospitals, implicated in the controversy, before it in the coming weeks.

Last week, PAC chairman John McGuinness criticised the manner in which HSE disclosed results of an internal audit report to the committee when O’Brien appeared before it earlier this month.

“[The] report was given to clerk and it was then too late for us to mention it or to flag it [at the last meeting],” McGuinness said.

The government said yesterday that the Taoiseach remains unhappy with the failure of some organisations to engage with the Department of Health letters which sought confirmation that agencies and hospitals were in compliance with pay policy.

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Under Section 38 of the Health Act 2004, which includes both health agencies and voluntary hospitals,  bodies may not supplement approved rates of remuneration with either Exchequer funding or non-Exchequer sources of funding.

Of 44 organisations, 36 have provided a reply and 24 of those returned a status of non-compliance while 12 reported compliance.

A government spokesperson said it is the intention of the government to follow through on the issue.

The PAC investigation into this aspect of health spending, specifically ‘top-ups’, precludes any other Oireachtas committee, such as the Health Committee, scrutinising the matter until the PAC completes its probe.

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Read: 24 HSE organisations not compliant with government pay policy

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Hugh O'Connell

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