Page last updated at 23:18 GMT, Wednesday, 8 April 2009 00:18 UK

UK overpaid Irish health system

Doctor and patient
The UK has paid money to Ireland for 40 years

The UK government could be wrongly giving millions of euros to its Irish Republic counterpart, the Tories say.

The Irish administration gets money to pay for the healthcare of people who worked in the UK, then went home.

But in 2007, the UK overpaid by 150m euros (£135m) and the Tories say they want a parliamentary inquiry to see if further overpayments have been made.

The UK government said only the 2007 figure was disputed. The Irish Republic says it now faces a funding shortfall.

The agreement that the UK government make such payments has existed for 40 years.

It is based on the national insurance Irish citizens have paid in the UK.

'Lower'

The UK government has been paying around 450m euros per year.

But the Tories say that in 2007, the UK government said it had overpaid by around 150m euros.

In December 2006, health minister Mary Harney told the Irish parliament: "The UK authorities formed the view they were overpaying us".

And she said the 2008 payment was likely to be around 250m euros. "If we do not get the 450m we were getting, we will have a shortfall."

Patients need to know exactly how much has been overpaid and why
Andrew Lansley, shadow health secretary

The Department of Health said future payments to the Irish Republic would be "significantly lower".

It says this is because the data with which they calculate the payment has significantly improved, and that far more people are entitled to an Irish pension, meaning Ireland is now liable for their healthcare costs.

It also said that it was possible there had been over-payments pre-2007, but that it would be difficult to quantify them because of the lack of suitable data.

'Precious resources'

However, a spokesman said future payments would not be calculated to "claim back" money, and would only look at the existing situation.

He added: "Calculating payments in this bilateral agreement relies on estimated numbers of patients and costs.

"At the point the UK made a payment of 450m euros in 2007 it was agreed with the Irish government that as soon as updated evidence became available about actual numbers, the UK Government would reduce future payments to reflect the actual figure. This is what we have done. "

A spokesman for the Irish Department of Health and Children said: "It would be misleading to seek to apply any current annual payment to previous years and draw the conclusion that overpayments were made.

"Payments in any one year can be made up of both advances in respect of that year and final settlements in respect of one or more previous years. Therefore, some years will be lower than others."

But shadow health secretary Andrew Lansley, said: "NHS funds are always precious and it's completely unacceptable for the government to be carelessly diverting £180m a year out of our NHS.

"There are so many different ways that money could be spent to provide better care for NHS patients.

"The government needs to take responsibility for the painful impact the confusion is having on the already overstretched Irish health system.

"It's time for the government to get a grip on the NHS finances. Patients need to know exactly how much has been overpaid and why. And we need an assurance from the government that this won't happen again."



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