HSE expects €25m worth of hand sanitiser to go out of date, committee hears

Accounts briefing reveals a total outlay of €1.1bn on the procurement, transport and storage of PPE during pandemic

The Health Service Executive spent more than €25 million on hand sanitising gel last year that is likely to go out of date before it can be used, the Oireachtas Committee of Public Accounts has been told.

A briefing on the health service accounts revealed a total outlay of €1.1 billion on the procurement, transport and storage of personal protective equipment (PPE) purchased last year and in 2020 to deal with Covid-19.

Addressing the committee on Thursday, Comptroller and Auditor General Seamus McCarthy said “impairment charges” of €374 million were identified in 2020 “reflecting a loss of value due to falling market prices and expected obsolescence of goods purchased”. Similar losses last year ran to €109 million.

“This comprised €25.6 million in respect of hand sanitising gel that the HSE anticipates will pass its expiry date before it can be used,” Mr McCarthy said, as well as €12.7 million on other PPE items unlikely to be used and €70.6 million on a write down of stock values and replacement cost.


The 2020 impairment charge included a €64 million provision for obsolete protective suits unlikely to be used.

“Because the HSE had not decided how to dispose of the suits, it incurred additional costs of €1.25 million to store them during 2021,” he outlined in his report.

The HSE’s total expenditure in 2021 was €22.7 billion, up €1.7 billion, or 8 per cent, on 2020, and almost 27 per cent on 2019. It spent €719 million on Covid testing and tracing, and €530 million on its vaccination programme.

Thursday’s meeting also presented the committee with an opportunity to engage with senior HSE management on a range of issues around the provision of mental health services.

It heard that understaffing affecting the Crosslanes psychiatry unit in Drogheda, Co Louth, has left dozens of vulnerable people on a waiting list for assessment.

Sinn Féin Louth TD Imelda Munster described the situation as a “total systems failure”.

“At what stage are management held to account for this?” she asked. “[This is] one unit where I can give you horrific stories of people desperate for help that are turned away and take their own lives. What sort of a system is that?”

Information provided to Ms Munster in June showed there were four staff positions unfilled at the facility with 89 people awaiting assessment.

Dervila Eyres, the HSE’s head of mental health services, said she believed there were still four outstanding vacancies.

Staffing problems within the health service formed a key theme during a 3½ hour hearing. On his final appearance before the committee, outgoing chief executive Paul Reid said the HSE was “all about the services … if we’re not adding value we’re not doing our job”.

He said recruitment remained a key challenge but he was confident everything was being done to source staff, including from abroad.

Thursday’s meeting, however, heard criticism of the HSE from various members who cited several areas of concern, including the contentious decision to close the Owenacurra Centre in Midleton, Co Cork, which had been deemed unfit for purpose.

Mr Reid said he stood by the decision, that it was “right for the families, it was right for the people who were in residence, it was right to provide a better service”.

He became embroiled in a heated exchange with Wexford Independent TD Verona Murphy who was angered when unable to get an answer on the employment of staff.

She admonished officials for not carrying out exit interviews of staff in order to understand their reasons for leaving, and grew frustrated as to why a full-time dietitian for anorexic patients in Wexford could not be recruited.

“To state the obvious: yes, there are challenges. And you might not like it; we don’t like it,” said Mr Reid, who at one stage intervened. He said the service had to employ 10,000 staff each year just to “stand still”.

On Friday, the Comptroller and Auditor General will publish a report on the costs associated with the HSE cyberattack in May 2021.

Mr Reid told the committee efforts were ongoing to recruit two more officials to oversee cybersecurity and that in the meantime these functions had been contracted to the private sector. This year, the HSE has spent €40 million to bolster cybersecurity and a multiannual strategy will set out the case for expenditure running into hundreds of millions of euro.

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard

Mark Hilliard is a reporter with The Irish Times