Transfusion Positive criticised for ‘extravagant’ spending

Audit finds Hepatitis C support group spent money on overseas, trips and beauty treatments

A screengrab showing a table of expenses taken from the HSE audit.

A screengrab showing a table of expenses taken from the HSE audit.

 

A support group for people who contracted Hepatitis C from contaminated blood products has been strongly criticised for significant extravagant spending and governance deficiencies in a new internal HSE audit.

The Transfusion Positive organisation received €3.215 million in funding from the HSE between 2005 and 2014.

However the newly-published HSE internal audit highlights what it describes as extravagant expenditure which was not deemed to represent value for taxpayers’ money.

The audit finds that funding provided by the HSE to Transfusion Positive was not used economically, efficiently, effectively or appropriately”.

It says that in excess of 90 per cent of public funds provided to Transfusion Positive during the period between 2009 and 2014 was spent on overseas trips, weekends away, dining, expenses of the organisation’s executive committee members and directors as well as on complementary/beauty therapies and legal costs.

“In internal audit’s opinion acceptance of public funds means accepting the responsibility and obligations of stewardship, transparency and acountability for the expenditure of such funds. That did not happen in the case of Transfusion Positive.”

“In 2012 Transfusion Positive’s funding was cut significantly. Prior to 2012, the impression created by Transfusion Positive was that money was no object and extravagant expenditure was normal.”

HSE internal audit also found that Transfusion Positive delegates spent at least €3,052 on alcohol while attending international liver conferences and while dining and attending weekends away in Ireland.

The audit report says “the purchase of alcohol is not an acceptable use of public funds”.

The internal audit says its work was hampered by Transfusion Positive’s lack of records.

It says the organisation informed the HSE’s internal audit unit that it had destroyed financial records as it was not aware it had to maintain such material.

The internal audit report says a further area of concern was the use of a director’s personal credit card as “a de facto corporate credit card”. It says 271 transactions costing €101,852 were paid on behalf of Transfusion Positive and re-couped from the company. It says late credit card payment fee and penalties to the value of €716 were also charged to Transfusion Positive.

“In addition this personal credit cared was front loaded with €10,000 in advance of a trip to a US conference. Receipts were not available for the US expenditure.”

The internal audit report also says that Transfusion Positive was not open and transparent with the HSE, which provided it with its funding. It says the organisation “strenuously resisted the HSE line division’s requests for basic financial information” as well as for it to account for its expenditure of public funds and to implement improved governance.

The report says Transfusion Positive had a “fraught business relationship with the HSE line division responsible for its funding”.

The audit report says the areas of extravagant expenditure identified includes €546,838 spent on 36 weekends, over €72,000 on AGMs held over 3 days, €424,730 on expenses of executive committee members, more than €37,900 on bills for dining and €8,114 on gifts.

“Weekend expenditure included expenditure of €131,460 on a wide range of complementary therapies, massage and beauty treatments. Further areas of extravagance included rental costs of €289,082 or €58,000 peranum on office accommodation (a house in Clanwilliam Square) which was opened for 1.5 days each week and expenditure of over €70,000 by executive committee members attending highly-specialised international conferences which were targeted at highly -specialised Hepatitis C clinicians. None of Transfusion Positive’s executive committee members are clinicians.”

No one from Transfusion Positive was immediately available for comment.

The chairwoman of Transfusion Positive Maura Long said there were no financial irregularities found in relation to the organisation.

She said Transfusion Positive had already implemented many of the recommendations set out in the audit report and was working to implement others in conjunction with the HSE. She said it was working closely with the HSE.

She all money spend by the organisation had been for the benefit of members who had been infected by the State as well as their families.