Sunday 22 September 2019

Consultancy firm accused of 'gross conflict of interest' over involvement in two Children's Hospital reviews

PAC chairman Seán Fleming
PAC chairman Seán Fleming
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

THE involvement of consultancy firm PWC in two reviews relating to the controversial National Children’s Hospital (NCH) project has been described as a “gross conflict of interest”.

The claim was made by Fianna Fáil TD Seán Fleming, the chairman of the Dáil’s spending watchdog, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC).

PWC was hired by the Government earlier this year to conduct a review of the escalating costs of the NCH where construction costs have soared by €450m to €1.4bn.

In the resulting report PWC concluded that once it had emerged that costs had risen with the hospital project, taking any alternative course of action other to proceed would have led to delay, increased costs and the possibility it wouldn’t be built.

The cost of this report has been reported to be as much as €500,000.

It emerged at last week’s PAC meeting that PWC was previously involved in advising the HSE on options on the future of the hospital project late last year.

The HSE’s report from last November entitled: 'The New Children's Hospital Programme: Options Going Forward' says that proceeding with the plan to build the hospital was the most viable option to ensure the most timely and cost-effective completion of the project".

In a letter to the PAC the HSE denied that PWC’s involvement in both reviews had been a conflict of interest.

PWC have also previously denied the claim.

The HSE’s letter said that they had sought “high level input” from a range of health construction and procurement specialists, including PWC.

It said that none of those parties had any role in the subsequent decision making process.

TDs today disputed the suggestion that that PWC’s involvement in both reviews did not amount to a conflict of interest.

Mr Fleming claimed it was a “gross conflict of interest”.

He argued that it was “inappropriate” for PWC to have been asked to carry out the report into the costs, due to their previous role in advising the HSE on the options for the NCH project.

Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane said it seemed to him that PWC was “paid twice” for the same advice and also claimed their involvement in both reviews was a “clear conflict of interest”.

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy also shared concern said there should be procurement rules to prevent such a situation occurring.

TDs questioned if the same staff at PWC were involved in both reviews.

The PAC agreed to write to the HSE asking for the nature of the advice PWC gave last November, how much it cost, as well as if any PWC staff worked on both NCH reports.

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