Consultants are told to hand back thousands in fees
HOSPITAL consultants have been ordered to hand over hundreds of thousands of euro earned in their private clinics to the HSE.
The health body is demanding that doctors who they believe breached contract terms pay the cash into an educational fund, but the consultants are likely to fight the instruction.
The dispute arises out of a clause in their contracts which states that consultants attached to public hospitals must limit the number of hours they spend with private patients.
Sources have told the Herald that the HSE has demanded cash from 36 doctors who they claim have treated an "excessive" amount of patients outside of the public system.
Under controversial contracts agreed with Health Minister Mary Harney last year, consultants are required to work on the basis of a public-to- private patient ratio of 70:30 or 80:20 depending on their department.
To date, 296 consultants have received correspondence from clinical directors or hospital managers warning them to address "excess levels of private practice".
However, the Irish Hospital Consultants' Association (IHCA) says that the HSE is using a flawed method of measure for consultants' workload.
The Herald understands that the HSE is on a collision course with a small number of those consultants.
In August, the health authority instructed hospitals to write to the consultants to advise "of the need to take positive action to reduce their level of private practice to the approved contractual ratio".
The HSE has declined to identify the hospitals involved.
ICHA secretary general Donal Duffy is furious with the development. He argues that consultants work in a range of situations in a hospital but the HSE only count some.
"The HSE measures only from the time that a patient has been diagnosed and signed in."
Mr Duffy said that if it takes a considerable amount of time to diagnose a patient's illness, the consultant can work several hours that the HSE won't count.
The Herald submitted a number of questions to the HSE regarding their approach to consultancy contracts but a reply had not been received at the time of going to print.