Wednesday 18 October 2017

Shocking delay as HSE breaks its own rules over questions

Shane Phelan Investigative Correspondent

CONCLUSIVE proof of unaccountability in the health service is laid bare today by internal documents which reveal shocking delays by officials in dealing with legitimate questions from politicians.

Under Health Service Executive (HSE) rules, requests for information from TDs must be answered within 15 working days.

However, records seen by the Irish Independent reveal how less than half of questions are answered on time, while some requests for information made as far back as last year have yet to be dealt with.

Internal memos name several senior HSE officials whose sections have failed to comply with the organisation's own rules on information disclosure.

These include performance and financial management director Laverne McGuinness, reconfiguration director Brian Gilroy, finance director Liam Woods, and quality and clinical care director Barry White.

Former HSE boss Professor Brendan Drumm introduced the 15-day deadline in 2007, following complaints from TDs.

He said at the time that the new deadline would make the HSE more accountable.

Of 1,408 information requests -- known as parliamentary questions -- received between January and July, just 43pc or 606 requests were answered on time.

Some 20pc of the requests, a total of 291, remained unanswered by the end of September; while 7pc were still not answered by yesterday.

Records also show that 79 parliamentary questions asked by TDs in 2009 have still not been answered.

The HSE said last night that industrial action earlier this year was partly to blame for the massive backlog.

Fine Gael TD John Perry, who obtained the figures, said: "This just goes to show the malaise that exists in the system at the moment.

"It proves that the level of accountability within the HSE to Dail Eireann is just not good enough."

The vast majority of the information requests, some 1,297, were directed to Ms McGuinness and were passed on to 19 other officials.

However, just 42pc of requests handled through Ms McGuinness were answered on time; while 21pc had still not been answered by the end of September.

In recent weeks Ms McGuinness wrote to staff with concerns about the backlog, stating there was "significant underperformance".

Reconfiguration director Brian Gilroy had a much better record, albeit with considerably fewer requests to deal with. Of 26 requests handled between January and July, he responded to 21 on time.

Deadlines

Finance director Liam Woods only responded on time to seven out of his 16 requests in the same period, and human resources director Sean McGrath failed to answer a third of his 18 requests within the time limit.

Quality and clinical care director Barry White had just two requests to deal with, but only answered one on time.

Records also show he had yet to answer a request dating from 2009 by the end of last September. In a statement, the HSE said responding to information requests from TDs was "a priority", but deadlines had been missed because of industrial action by staff.

The HSE also claimed a number of the information requests were "very complex" and required "significant co-ordination and input from across the HSE system", which led to delays.

Irish Independent

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