Wednesday 13 December 2017

HSE handed out at least €15m of work without 'proper tendering'

HSE boss Tony O’Brien
HSE boss Tony O’Brien
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

The HSE handed out at least €15m of work to private operators last year without getting value for money quotes, it emerged yesterday.

The Comptroller and Auditor General looked at a sample of more than €30m worth of services bought by the HSE and found only half went through proper tendering, the Public Accounts Committee was told.

Quizzed on the poor use of public funding, HSE chief Tony O'Brien said that the scale and complexity of the HSE's buying of outside services is such that it will take "a number of years" before it can fully meet procurement standards.

The HSE's head of finance Stephen Mulvaney admitted it needed more internal expertise in areas such as preparing contracts.

During the recession the hiring of frontline workers over these staff had to be prioritised.

It now has 45 more of these staff trained in procurement and a central team has been set up to help each division of the HSE to get more competitive contracts, he added.

The HSE executive was tackled about the use of public funds in the light of waiting lists and pressure on services, including a lack of beds in the psychiatric unit of University Hospital Galway which has led to patients being refused admission.

It was asked how it could justify its handling of public fundings amid the ongoing series of scandals involving disability.

It recently emerged that St John of God, which is funded to provide disability and mental health services for the HSE, paid more than €6m to managers in secret top-ups.

Mr O'Brien said that he was not aware of the source of private funding or whether it came from fundraising, which members of the public carry out to support its services.

St John of God, which is now looking for a bailout of around €7m from the HSE, has insisted that the top-ups were paid from rental income.

The HSE only learned of the top-ups through a whistleblower who went public .

It said that it is limited in the level of oversight it can extend over these organisations.

Asked about the concerns of families who were now afraid the St John of God services will shut down, the HSE executives said they were unclear what the provider's intentions are, but the care of the people it cares for is a HSE priority.

It wants to see a move away from congregated settings if there is to be more investment.

Mr O'Brien said that in 2016 just under €3.8bn in grants was given to some 2,000 outside agencies.

"These range from the large voluntary hospitals and disability organisations to small local community based agencies," he said.

"Weaknesses in the monitoring and oversight of these grants to outside agencies have been identified," he added.

As part of a move to address weaknesses, he said that all Section 38 agencies are having the way they are run externally reviewed.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that a reported pre-election announcement last year by Fine Gael TDs in Meath that a new hospital was to be built in Navan was without any foundation.

Mr Mulvaney said that there are no plans for such a hospital and that it had never proceeded through any steps.

Irish Independent

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