The Department of Health has defended the omission of a €200m bill for consultant’s pay in the Health Service Executive's latest accounts following accusations at the Public Accounts Committee that an attempt was being made to "massage" the figures. 

The matter was raised by Committee Chair Sean Fleming who told yesterday's meeting of the committee that the HSE’s net operating deficit was €85m, however this masked the liability of meeting last year's court settlement with hospital consultants. 

The State settled a High Court case with the consultants at a cost of €187m in retrospective payments, with an additional €62m being added to the annual consultant pay bill in future.

Mr Fleming said that on the Friday before the accounts were due to be signed off last month, the Department of Health, on the instruction of the minister, issued a direction to the HSE not to include the liability. 

"Had he (Minister Simon Harris) not interfered with the final preparation of the accounts on the last weekend before they were signed off and audited, the actual real deficit for the HSE last year was €283m," Mr Fleming said, accusing the minister of "gross interference" and trying to "fool the people". 

However, a spokesperson for the Department of Health said there was "nothing suspicious" about this matter. 

"It was a technical solution to address the specific characteristics of the settlement, bearing in mind the unique nature of the HSE legislation which imposes a first charge on the following year's budget," she said. 

She said the minister approved an exemption from providing in full for the liability because of the unique characteristics of the pay settlement which would be spread over a two year period.

Comptroller and Auditor Seamus McCarthy told the committee that provision had been made in 2008 for a sum of €68m which was maintained, but the final bill following the court settlement was €198m.