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Saturday 20 January 2018

Slush fund probe criticises serious failures by HSE on foreign trips

Anne-Marie Walsh Industry Correspondent

PEOPLE with 'questionable' relevance went on foreign study trips that were paid out of a €2.35m HSE 'slush fund', an independent inquiry has revealed.

The investigation commissioned by the HSE -- seen by the Irish Independent -- heavily criticises the participation of retired officials, consultants and spouses on visits to far-flung destinations as part of a training programme for low-skilled workers.

In a damning verdict, independent consultant Turlough O'Sullivan questions the value of certain individuals' presence on the trips, including former HSE official Alan Smith.

And a separate document to be examined by a Dail committee next week reveals that a total of 56 overseas trips were taken -- paid out of state funding.

Mr O'Sullivan's report also severely criticises a "serious failure by management" on a number of levels and recommends that clear protocols are set up to guide foreign travel in the HSE "without further delay".

The former IBEC director general was asked to probe the trips after it was revealed that officials from the HSE, departments of finance and health, and union officials went on 'study' trips paid out of funding for a training programme called SKILL.


The Garda Fraud Squad is also investigating the programme's funding after a separate HSE audit found €2.35m it paid into a SIPTU-named account could not be accounted for.

In the report, which has just been finalised, Mr O'Sullivan said he could not understand why Alan Smith, who took early retirement last year, travelled so extensively and was on most, if not all, of the long-haul trips.

He said it was regrettable that he could not talk to the official, who did not respond to invitations to meet him.

The probe reveals Mr Smith went on 22 trips, including the US, Australia and several trips to the UK, while his wife accompanied him on four trips to the US, and one to Australia.

"In some cases it struck me that delegations were excessively large and included personnel whose relevance/value is questionable," said Mr O'Sullivan.

He also found there were "serious failures" in how the funds were paid to SIPTU without proper financial controls.

Mr O'Sullivan said he was told during his inquiries that spouses' travel costs were refunded to the SIPTU Health Division. However, he said he was not in a position to see any record of this.

Mr O'Sullivan said reporting, approvals for visits and documentation covering the trips was not as comprehensive as it should be.

"In my considered view, the very many shortcomings in governance indicate a serious failure by management at a number of levels, including the most senior management," he said.

His report will be discussed at a meeting of the Dail Public Accounts Committee next Thursday.

Irish Independent

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