HSE Director General Designate Tony O'Brien has said the financial situation for the executive at the end of March is a net underspend of €18m.

Speaking at the Public Accounts Committee, he said this is based on a capital underspend of €25m and a revenue overspend of €7m.

He said the planned savings of €721m to be achieved this year include a €150m saving to be achieved under Croke Park II and a €106m saving under pay and flexibility arrangements under Croke Park I.

The committee heard that last year a supplementary estimate of €360m was needed for the HSE and a €148m supplementary estimate was needed in 2011.

The HSE also said there has been an improvement in the sign off time by consultants on private health insurance forms, so that public hospitals are paid money by private health insurers.

Mr O'Brien said he expected full compliance by this year, but told the committee it was a problem.

At the end of December, €61m was outstanding in private health payments, partly due to claims awaiting consultant action.

Mr O'Brien said that while the processing of claims improved within the HSE, the overall length of time to get the payment from private health insurers was lengthening.

He said there was no deadline for private health insurers to make such payments to the HSE.

Mr O'Brien said that the average time taken for consultants to sign forms had fallen from 62 days in 2010 to 44 days in 2012.

He said he was confident it would reach an average of 30 days by the end of this year.

This was being assisted with the wider introduction of a system for electronic claims at hospital sites.

Hospitals where delays have increased are: the Mid West Regional in Limerick, Ennis General, St John's in Limerick, Galway University Hospital, Nenagh General, St Luke's Kilkenny, Waterford Regional, Mallow General, St James's Hospital, Kerry General, Our Lady's in Navan, Our Lady of Lourdes in Drogheda, Connolly Hospital and Tullamore General.

The worst performing hospital is the Mid West Regional Hospital in Limerick, which took 103 days to get the forms turned around.

The best performing hospitals include Mullingar General, Naas General and Midland Regional Hospital, Portlaoise.

The HSE told the committee that €9m of the €61m is outstanding for a year.