The Minister for Health James Reilly has said that he fully supports the position of the HSE Director General, Tony O'Brien, who today raised concerns about public consultants routinely working at St Vincent's Private Hospital in Dublin. 

Minister Reilly said said he did not believe that doctors employed on a contract that stipulates clearly that they can only practice private medicine in that public hospital can go through a corridor to a private hospital and practice medicine there.

Minister Reilly also said that he did not think it was appropriate that that St Vincent's public hospital was used as collateral to build a private hospital.

He said that he believed the hospital understood what was required of it.

"In the past they have found a way of meeting those requirements and I look forward to them doing the same again," he said.

St Vincent's Healthcare Group seeking legal advice

Earlier, the St Vincent's Healthcare Group said it is seeking legal advice after the HSE said the board must tell it today how it intends ending the situation where public consultants are working in the group's private hospital.

HSE Director General Tony O'Brien said it had transpired in recent weeks that dozens of public consultants were routinely working in St Vincent's Private Hospital.

He said it had been implied in correspondence to the HSE that only a handful of public consultants worked in the private hospital in rare and exceptional circumstances.

The HSE says that under the terms of the Consultants' Contract doing work in St Vincent's Private Hospital is not permitted. 

The chairman of St Vincent's Healthcare Group Professor, Noel Whelen, issued a statement stating that the Board believes it has met the full commitment it gave to the Public Accounts Committee in relation to compliance with public pay policy for Section 38 agencies.

The statement also said it disagrees with the HSE's interpretation of the Consultants' Contract based on its own legal advice.

However, Minister Reilly responded saying that "belief in the position being sound (based) on an interpretation of what are clear rules and regulations is all very well.

“It doesn't meet our requirement and they will have to meet our requirement," he said.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Sean O'Rourke, Mr O’Brien said the taxpayer was paying the salaries of a large number of consultants on the understanding they would be doing all of their work in a public hospital.

He said at St Vincent's there was a private hospital "which is effectively being run on the back of the public hospital" through consultants whose salaries are paid by the taxpayer and that seemed inappropriate.

Mr O'Brien said if that was the ongoing position, it would be very difficult to justify further taxpayer investment in order to support a private hospital.

The St Vincent's Healthcare Group has said it expects the issue about consultants' private work will be resolved through some judicial process and the interpretation of the consultants' contract.

The HSE said it plans to examine whether the practices are happening at other hospitals.