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HSE pays out €14.5m in rent as offices lie empty

A LARGE chunk of the HSE's lucrative property portfolio is lying completely empty even though the taxpayer is being saddled with a multi-million euro rent bill.

Dozens of the agency's properties, spanning the country, are continuing to remain idle, the Herald can reveal.

Documents obtained by this newspaper show the HSE boasts a vast array of properties which currently serve no health function whatsoever.

It comes as new figures today show that the HSE is forking out a staggering €14.5m to private landlords in Dublin alone, despite having a raft of empty properties in its possession.

The news has prompted calls from the opposition to carry out a "strategic review" into how the HSE is handling its properties on behalf of the State.

Figures seen by the Herald reveal a staggering €14.5m is being handed over to private landlords annually.

It means that the overall annual rent bill for the letting of properties nationwide is sure to run into tens of millions of euro.

Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act detail the vast properties and land developments owned by the HSE that are redundant and serving no benefit to taxpayers.

And the organisation admitted many of its properties have "no defined function".

According to the data, a total of 26 properties are listed by the HSE as "undeveloped site/land".

The data relates to the end of 2011.

While some of the land is used for recreational purposes in the grounds of psychiatric hospitals, much of it is not being used for health-related purposes whatsoever.

But the sheer number of properties the HSE could not provide a function for has prompted calls on management to carry out "a complete and thorough review of all its assets".

Fianna Fail Seanad Health Spokesperson Marc MacSharry said: "It is the taxpayer at the end of the day who puts huge funds into the HSE and they expect some sort of value for their money.

"I think the overall approach of the HSE in relation to its property portfolio is all wrong. It should be looking at these lands and seeing which ones it can rent, which ones it can sell off, which ones it can put to better use.

"It has to put its properties to better use. Leaving plots and buildings lying completely idle is not acceptable."

The HSE rejected that much of its land was going to no use.

"Much of the large land banks owned by the HSE are associated with large psychiatric institutions.

"It would be incorrect to say that these lands serve no use. They help create a peaceful and uncluttered environment which is beneficial to all, provide space and privacy for some of the most vulnerable clients."