Sunday 24 September 2017

Refurbishment of mental-health facility 20 times over budget limit

Toghermore Mental Health Residential Unit in Tuam
Toghermore Mental Health Residential Unit in Tuam

Paul Melia and Eilish O'Regan

THE HSE's spending on a refurbishment project for a mental-health facility was 20 times its budget limit – and included purchasing four chandeliers and a mirror costing €2,500.

The Toghermore Campus, near Tuam in Co Galway, spent a staggering €224,000 on furniture and crockery in 2011, despite having a budget of just €10,000 set aside for this.

An audit report into the spending, obtained by the Irish Independent under the Freedom of Information Act, shows that some €92,000 was spent on furniture, a further €86,000 on floor coverings and almost €40,000 on furnishings.

This included a sofa costing €1,700, a Waterford Wing chair (€725), four chandeliers (€1,937) and a mirror (€2,500).

CHANDELIERS

The area manager, Catherine Cunningham – who took up her post in February last year, after the above spending had been incurred – is quoted on the files as telling auditors she was "surprised" at the "weaknesses" in the financial-control systems.

The details are contained in more than 70 audit reports released by the HSE, which reveal a litany of poor financial practices, failure to collect outstanding debts and major concerns about computer security in state-owned care homes, hospitals and health centres.

The reports, which date from 2012, were carried out by the internal audit unit of the HSE. Last year, the HSE overran its budget by €360m and required a government bailout.

The reports also raise concerns that the HSE's acquisition of primary care centres lacked openness and transparency.

They also show that one senior executive failed to declare a potential conflict of interest when awarding a €200,000 contract to a company controlled by his business partner.

Other issues raised include:

* A lack of controls on how money was spent, including some staff withdrawing cash from bank accounts without being authorised to do so.

* A lack of documentation proving that services paid for were actually being delivered.

* Poor financial systems meant there was a risk that nursing homes could end up being paid to provide services for deceased residents.

* Just under 84pc of patients presenting to accident and emergency departments in Waterford, Wexford, St Luke's in Kilkenny and South Tipperary General Hospital were billed, representing a loss of €273,000.

* Unauthorised staff had access to patient files. In one case, employee records were found on a ticket machine in a hospital car park and there were concerns about how IT systems were managed.

The reports highlight good financial controls in place, saying that in many facilities there was a "very high degree of accuracy" in how money was spent, while also suggesting improvements to systems.

Irish Independent

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