Health forum hears concerns that Prime Time consultant not confronted

Management at University Hospital declined to say this week if the unidentified hospital consultant - referred to in a Prime Time telelevision programme which highlighted that the person was working far fewer hours than contracted for in the public system - had been held accountable.

Ann Cosgrove, the chief operating officer at the Saolta University Health Care Group, which runs the region’s public hospitals - told a meeting of the HSE West’s regional health forum this week that she was not commenting on an individual case.

She was responding to a question from Fine Gael city councillor Padraig Conneely. He said the television report, which was broadcast late last year indicated that 80 per cent of consultants at UHG were doing private work incompatible with their contracts.

He enquired if the UHG consultant - referred to in the television programme because he/she was found to work an average of 20 hours private and 14.5 hours public per week over an eight week period - had been confronted about this.

Raising the issue, he said that he was particularly interested in what the Prime Time programme revealed “about what was happening at UHG”.

He outlined that he had received the report of the investigation from RTE which revealed that out of a sample of 36 GUH hospital consultants 80 per cent were doing private work which was incompatible with their contracts.

He said this group was not being compliant, they were “not doing what they were supposed to do”. He accused hospital authorities of “failing to take control” and of “not bringing these people to book”.

He demanded to know if the particular UHG consultant, whose working hours had been highlighted, had been confronted. He said the consultant was paid €200,000 a year and it was “outrageous” [that the person was working far fewer hours than contracted].

Ann Cosgrove of Saolta outlined that GUH (UHG and Merlin Park ) has 234 consultants with varying contract types.

In a written reply she said not all consultants appointed in GUH have fulltime clinical contracts, a significant number have reduced clinical hours for management, academic roles or personal reasons.

“The terms of these contracts vary substantially and clearly stipulate the contracted hour and public/private mix permitted for each consultant. The monitoring for public/private is a complext component of the ongoing implementation process for the consultant contract. It is done by way of work practice plans, theatre schedules and the patient administration system and the HIPE [Hospital Inpatient Enquiry System].”

She went on to say that the latest data indicated a rate of 82.3% was recorded for public inpatient work and 91.5% for public day work in GUH. She added that the combined figure is 87 per cent which is well within the prescribed range.

“It is important to state that many consultants greatly exceed their contracted hours in the public system,” she stressed. “There may be specific reasons where a number of consultants are outside of their contract ratio at a point in time, the management of compliance is a continuing process.”

Cllr Conneely accused Ms Cosgrave of not answering his question about whether the consultant in question had been confronted. He told the meeting “the dogs in the street” knew who it was.

Ms Cosgrove said if there was any discrepency between any consultant’s public and private mix the issue would be addressed with the individual consultant and hospital management.

When pressed further by Cllr Terry O’Flaherty, who asked if the particular consultant had been held accountable, she said she was not commenting on an individual case.

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