HSE says two procurement audits found ‘deficiencies’

Health committee told collusion between suppliers and purchasers ‘difficult’ to detect

HSE national director for acute hospitals Liam Woods. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times.

HSE national director for acute hospitals Liam Woods. Photograph: Eric Luke/The Irish Times.

 

The names of five hospitals about which allegations of procurement irregularities were made to An Garda Síochána and senior Ministers last year have been given to an Oireachtas committee.

HSE national director for acute hospitals Liam Woods told the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children that the hospitals were St Columcille’s in Dublin; Mullingar; Tallaght; Bon Secours in Dublin and St Vincent’s Private Hospital in Dublin.

He said internal audits subsequently carried out into procurement controls at St Columcille’s and Mullingar hospitals, both of which are operated by the HSE directly, had identified deficiencies in procurement controls but no evidence of wrongdoing.

He said a phone call had been made in 2011 to a member of staff at St Columcille’s making allegations in a general sense about procurement, but an inquiry at the time did not turn up anything.

The Oireachtas committee held a meeting on foot of allegations, raised in an RTÉ Prime Time programme last week, of impropriety among staff working in the procurement departments of a number of hospitals.

The programme included allegations regarding two members of staff at the publicly-funded St Vincent’s University Hospital in Dublin and the medical and surgical supplies company Eurosurgical Ltd.

These allegations referred to the provision of holidays to hospital staff, the receipt of a gift card and the provision of confidential commercial information to the company.

The chief executive of the private Beacon Hospital in Dublin, Michael Cullen, told the committee the hospital was shocked and disappointed at allegations made in the programme in relation to its staff.

He said one employee had subsequently resigned and the hospital has commissioned a forensic accountant to carry out a review.

St Vincent’s University Hospital declined to attend the committee meeting on the basis that an investigation it had commissioned into the allegations was still underway.

It said it would appear before the committee when the process was finalised.

Minister for Health Leo Varadkar said it would have been better if St Vincent’s had taken part in the hearing.

He pointed out that representatives of the Beacon Hospital, which also featured in the RTÉ programme, and the HSE had attended.

Mr Woods said that if the allegations set out in the RTÉ programme proved to be correct, they would be entirely unacceptable and would be condemned by the HSE in the strongest manner.

He said that at this juncture they were only allegations and were still under investigation.

Varadkar correspondence

Mr Woods said that in September 2014 Mr Varadkar received correspondence from Labour Party TD Emmet Stagg, which was copied to Minister for Justice Frances Fitzgerald.

It included specific allegations made by a whistleblower that were given to gardaí in June last year regarding five named hospitals.

He said two of these hospitals - St Columcille’s in Dublin and Mullingar - were operated by the HSE itself and a review was commissioned to ascertain any evidence to support the claims made by the whistleblower.

While these audits identified deficiencies in procurement controls, there was no evidence of wrongdoing.

However, he said collusion between a supplier and purchaser, as was alleged, “is very difficult to be detected by management, internal audit and external audit”.

Fianna Fáil TD Robert Troy raised questions about a number of procurement contracts in the health service, including one for a €500,000 patient management system at the Mater Hospital in Dublin, which he said had not been put out to tender.

He also asked about contracts for provision of mattresses in hospitals in the midlands.

Mr Woods told the committee the overall health service expenditure involving Eurosurgical for last year was €6 million, of which approximately €4 million related to the HSE and the balance to the voluntary sector.

“Since the Prime Time programme, the HSE has reviewed €1.08 million worth of contracts with the company and the HSE has no concerns arising at this time.

“Regarding the balance of this expenditure, HSE Procurement is currently in the process of reviewing this.”