Ex-HSE staff must be banned from sensitive inquiries, says PAC report
The HSE should no longer hire former staff to carry out sensitive investigations into failings in the health service, according to a draft report by the Dáil spending watchdog.
The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report found it "inherently risky" for former health service staff to be involved in certain probes.
The recommendation comes after PAC members expressed concern about the use of former health sector staff in reviews relating to foster home abuse allegations in the south-east and the Áras Attracta scandal.
It has been common practice in recent years for the HSE to appoint outside consultants to conduct independent investigations into adverse incidents or other controversies.
Quite often those appointed are people who previously worked for the HSE or in the old health boards system.
However, the PAC is recommending wholesale changes to the way such investigators are appointed. Its draft report, which has been seen by the Irish Independent, recommends former staff should be assessed for conflicts of interest before getting a contract or being employed by a contracting party.
It also states that where an investigation involves a systemic failure on the part of the HSE, former health officials should not be deemed qualified to undertake such work.
The report comes as Junior Health Minister Kathleen Lynch prepares a new set guidelines governing the issue.
"We expect the recommendations from this report to be considered for the overall policy document that is produced," said PAC vice-chairman John Deasy.
The draft report is critical of the fact contracts to investigate issues of abuse at two care homes were awarded by the HSE without a competitive tender. "Former colleagues of HSE employees were hired to investigate issues of abuse highlighted in care homes," it found.
"While in no way questioning the integrity or professionalism of any person contracted by the HSE to conduct an investigation, the committee sees this strategy as inherently risky."
In the case of the foster home probe, two contracts, each costing around €100,000, were awarded without a competition.
None of the findings have been published as a separate garda investigation is ongoing.
The PAC draft report also criticised general HSE procurement of goods and services, which cost the health service around €1.6bn a year.
It said there was scope for "significant savings" if products were competitively procured, pointing to a 2013 audit which found over a third of tenders examined had not been put out to competition.
The draft report also said the HSE could face lawsuits for failing to advertise contracts.
"The HSE is leaving itself liable to legal action being taken by those in the market who were denied the opportunity to compete for work or for supplies," it said.