HSE staff went on bonding trip as 'secret waiting lists' scandal emerged
On the day that the hospital waiting list scandal emerged members of the HSE communications team went on an overnight team building trip in Kildare.
On February 6, it was revealed the number of patients waiting for medical procedures was much higher than those on official lists.
Some 49,000 were found to be on separate lists, not released by the National Treatment Purchase Fund. The figures had increased by January, meaning in total 632,185 public patients were on some form of waiting list for hospital care.
But on the same day as the RTÉ Investigates expose 'Living on the List' aired, the HSE communications team was at the Barretstown campus, in Naas, Co Kildare. Members were attending a two-day event, including a "delicious" two-course meal and outdoor exercise.
According to an itinerary for the trip, obtained by the Irish Independent, the communications team was greeted by a welcome address from HSE director general Tony O'Brien at 10.30am in the main dining hall. This was followed by a 'welcome activity', listed as indoor.
Outdoor activities were also lined up for the following day at 9am. In a note sent to the official attendees, they were advised to bring appropriate clothing.
"Please bring warm clothing (remember the snow!) and runners for outdoor exercise - this will be a fun exercise and not physically challenging," they were told. "We have a number of team building exercises planned - some will consist of four teams, others three teams."
The communications team was also told about the dinner arrangements for the first night of the trip.
"You may want to bring a change of clothes for our meal out in Ballymore on Monday night," the note said. "There will be a two-course menu to choose from which promises to be delicious."
According to the itinerary, the meal was at the Ballymore Inn. A set two-course dinner at the restaurant would cost €31.95, with main course choices including beef stir fry with black bean sauce and Duncannon salmon with crispy courgettes, butter sauce and smoky relish. It is understood the HSE told attendees that if they went for dinner, the HSE would not pay for any alcohol.
In a statement the HSE said: "In relation to the RTÉ Investigates programme, the training taking place in Barretstown did not in any way impact on the HSE's response to the programme. Some staff were in Dublin on both Monday and Tuesday as part of our response to the programme.
"Furthermore, the press office continued to run during the two days with staff working remotely from Barretstown to ensure that it was 'business as usual' in dealing with the many media queries we received relating the programme.
"You will note that we had spokespeople on radio and television on Monday in response to the programme.
"The HSE deeply regrets, and has apologised for, those waiting unacceptable times for hospital treatment."