Wednesday 22 November 2017

Health Minister denies HSE was aware of allegations that hospital staff 'accepted gifts from medical suppliers'

St Vincent's University Hospital
St Vincent's University Hospital

David Kearns

Health Minister Leo Varadkar has denied reports the HSE was aware of allegations that senior staff at two Dublin hospitals were receiving expensive holidays and gifts from a medical supplies company, in exchange for commercially sensitive information.

Two Dublin hospitals have suspended without prejudice three members of staff following a Prime Time investigation that claimed they had approved orders for goods priced far above the cost charged by an existing supplier.

St Vincent's University Hospital confirmed two employees would not return to duty until after it had completed an internal inquiry, while a spokesperson for the Beacon Hospital confirmed this morning that it too had also suspended an employee pending the outcome of an internal investigation.

Speaking to News At One, Minster Varadkar said it was very disappointing that anybody working in the health service whether in a public or private would behave in a way that he described “as unethical and driven by greed.”

He said that reports that his department and the HSE had been aware of the allegations made on Prime Time last night since September of last year were “not true”.

“The impression might have been created last night that the department and the HSE was aware of the allegations a year ago and did nothing but that is not the case,” he said.

Read more: Inquiries launched into allegations Dublin hospital staff accepted gifts from medical suppliers

“The department was made aware of allegations in September of last year, as was the department of Justice, but these were different to those aired on Prime Time last night, and if anything, were much worse, and more extensive and involved other hospitals.

“If anyone from Prime Time had contacted my office in the last week or so, we’d have been happy to tell them this.”

Mr Varadkar said the Department of Health and the HSE were only made aware of the allegations relating to Prime Time’s investigation when the programme aired last night.

He added that the HSE had suspended all payments to Eurosurgical Ltd, including those from HSE funded hospitals.

Information obtained by RTÉ revealed that some staff passed on commercially sensitive information to the medical supplies company, which included competitors price lists.

HSE policy states employees can not receive benefits of any kind from a third party which might reasonably be seen to compromise their personal judgement or integrity.

Read more: Varadkar: patient safety is to get more HSE attention

The report stated that the allegations made by a whistleblower regarding Eurosurgical Ltd were passed on to Gardaí more than a year ago.

The Garda Press Office said in a statement: "The Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation are and have been carrying out inquiries in relation to procurement practices at Irish hospitals".

Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee John McGuinness has said they will be investigating the processes and procedures within the HSE and particularly the procurement process.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, he said: "It is clear to me that in any large organisation there is always a risk of  ….. people operating under the radar, particularly when you have big buying power like the HSE."

"While there is an audit within the HSE, there is a need to strengthen the powers of the auditor general."A management system was not in place robustly enough to manage this."

He added that: "We need to learn from this and  we need to put in place systems that will work and not systems that will report after the event."

In a statement, Eurosurgical Ltd said it has always behaved ethically, and that, "in light of the enquiries that are under way, with which Eurosurgical Limited will fully cooperate, we have been advised to make no comment save that we are taking further legal advice."

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