Saturday 25 May 2019

Department of Health insists PwC's involvement in two hospital reviews was not a conflict of interest

€1.7BN bill: How the new National Children’s Hospital will look
€1.7BN bill: How the new National Children’s Hospital will look

Eilish O’Regan

The private consultancy firm hired to investigate cost overruns in the national children’s hospital was also paid to advise on how to proceed with the €1.7bn project months earlier, the Public Accounts Committee was told today.

But the Department of Health said there was “no conflict of interest” and the Government was made fully aware of the previous input.

Correspondence to the committee highlighted the role of PwC which was commissioned, for a fee of €450,000, by the Government earlier this year to find out why the construction  cost had escalated from €1bn in April 2017 to €1.4bn last November.

Some of the same PwC staff involved in the investigation report were also deployed in  the November advice.

The correspondence from the Department of Health to the committee said PwC’s  expertise in large scale healthcare construction projects was highly relevant in both instances.

"We view the 2019 work as being complementary to the November 2018 work and see it as being appropriate that some of the same personnel were used on both occasions."

When the Government commissioned PwC to carry out a review of the cost overruns in January the Department of Health was "fully aware that PwC provided specialist input to the HSE in November 2018."

It insisted that because none of the PwC staff had a  role in the decision making process about the hospital and there was no conflict of interest.

However, the revelations drew strong criticism from members of the committee today who said there was a conflict of interest.

Addressing the committee Secretary General of the Department of Health Jim Breslin implementation plan to action the recommendations of the PwC to address the weaknesses found will be released shortly to improve planning and oversight report which found a “series of weaknesses” involving the planning and oversight of the project.

The big fear is that th e cost will escalate further. The construction cost is currently €1.4bn but this increases to €1.7bn when its IT and other systems are paid for. But construction inflation may push up the bill further.

“Decant works at Tallaght University Hospital are now complete and the new creche, changing facility and offices are open. Construction work on the 4,600 sq m (49.5 sq ft) paediatric outpatient and urgent care centre started last month and is due to open in 2020.”

The main hospital is “progressing well” and is on course to open in 2023.

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