Hospitals boss had 'potential conflict of interest'
A former head of the Saolta hospitals' group in the west of Ireland had a "potential conflict of interest" due to his links with a company that was given €338,000 worth of HSE contracts, an audit report has revealed.
Bill Maher said he was a consultant with the company Northgate before he was seconded to head the country's first hospitals' group in Galway in 2012. He told HSE auditors that he remained a consultant to Northgate, which was involved in securing information technology, cleaning and catering services for the hospitals, until March or April of 2013.
He insisted he was not conflicted and was upfront about his Northgate links, verbally informing the hospital group chairman.
Northgate was initially contracted to do some work for the Saolta group in 2012. But it went on to do more lucrative work and was paid €393,231 in total.
No tender was issued because Northgate was the "only supplier of the service" in the country, the auditors were told.
Mr Maher told the HSE auditors, who investigate value for money, that his consultancy payments were "not tied in any shape or form to procurement of services from Northgate".
His work for the company related to overseas developments and marketing strategy.
He said that as chief executive he was not involved in the initial sourcing of Northgate as a supplier or in the subsequent approval of payments.
The group's chief operations officer Tony Canavan also said he personally was not involved.
Mr Canavan told the auditors that while he was involved in management of the contract for catering and cleaning, it was Mr Maher's suggestion that Northgate provide the service to the group.
Mr Maher said he "verbally" told the chairman of the Saolta board of his links to Northgate.
However, the auditors concluded this did not go far enough and he should have told senior HSE management because the board was set up on an administrative basis and had no executive authority. It said the procurement of Northgate was also not carried out in keeping with financial regulations.
The auditors asked Mr Maher if he had benefited in any way from Northgate just prior to and during the procurement of the clinical information management system contract.
He said he received fees, but declined to say how much for commercial reasons.