Children’s hospital board may be changed, says Simon Harris

Minister says he will act on any recommendations of report into escalating costs of new facility

Minister for Health Simon Harris. Photograph: Andres Poveda

Minister for Health Simon Harris. Photograph: Andres Poveda

 

Minister for Health Simon Harris has signalled he is prepared to change the membership of the board developing the new National Children’s Hospital if necessary.

If the Government-appointed consultant report on the escalating costs recommended governance or personnel changes, the Minister would act on these, his spokeswoman said last night.

She said the Minister acknowledged there were serious concerns regarding overrun and particularly with the governance of the project.

“The Minister has powers under the Children’s Health Act to review the composition of the board and he will keep these matters under review.”

Earlier on Friday Mr Harris appeared to suggest there would be “personnel changes” without any linkages to the forthcoming independent report into the cost escalation.

“People will be held to account. There will be governance changes in relation to this, of that there is no doubt. There will be personnel changes in relation to some people involved in the governance structure,” he had said.

The controversy over the escalating costs of the new National Children’s Hospital continued on Friday with the chairman of the Oireachtas health committee Michael Harty calling on the Minister to take responsibility for the overrun, even if that meant having to resign.

It also emerged on Friday that the consultants who have been tasked with examining the cost escalations in the hospital were told to “stop short of determining culpability at the individual level”.

Series of events

The Government has asked consultants PWC to look into the series of events that led to the increase, which could top €2 billion.

According to the terms of reference for the review, it will establish the “underlying root causes” that led to the escalation.

While it will deal with the “role and accountability of the relevant key parties,” it will “stop short of determining culpability at the individual level”.

Fianna Fáil health spokesman Stephen Donnelly said it was “hard to comprehend”.

“I find the decision not to hold anyone accountable for this catastrophic failure utterly bewildering,” he said.

Meanwhile senior officials from the Department of Public Expenditure are to be questioned before two Oireachtas committees over the escalating cost of the National Children’s Hospital.

Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty said the Finance Committee is asking the Secretary General of the Department of Public Expenditure Robert Watt to appear “as soon as possible” to answer questions about the oversight of the project.

Fianna Fáil TD Seán Fleming, who chairs the Public Accounts Committee, said he wants to question the officials on various capital projects including the National Children’s Hospital.

It comes after it emerged that the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) raised concerns nearly two years ago about governance arrangements for the development of the hospital.

Informed sources said DPER had contacted the Department of Health in early 2017 regarding its concerns about governance issues.

The Department said it had been assured by the Department of Health that there were “sufficiently robust” arrangements in place to oversee the construction of the hospital, according to official files.

The Department of Public Expenditure said the assurances it was given in relation its concerns about governance issues had been set out by Mr Harris in a memo which he brought to the Cabinet in the summer of 2017.

Further questions

Separately, the Department of Public Expenditure itself is expected to face further questions about the role of one of its senior officials, Paul Quinn, the Government’s chief procurement officer, who served on the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board (NPHDB) since 2013.

Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell said this week that she found it “very disturbing that the head of procurement, who was on the board, knew about this”.

“He must have mentioned it. I do not buy the idea that information did not get out. I am seriously concerned if the head of procurement knew about this and the Minister was not informed until [LAST]August.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Public Expenditure said on Friday night that Mr Quinn was appointed in a “personal capacity” and that he was bound by confidentiality clauses.

“Paul Quinn was appointed in a personal capacity as an experienced procurement professional to the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board in 2013 for a five-year term by the then minister for health, Mr James Reilly. He was reappointed in 2018 by the current Minister for Health, Simon Harris.”

The spokeswoman said that members “have a responsibility to act collectively” for the board in decision-making and communication “and an obligation to observe its confidentiality arrangements”.

“The Department of Health, as the accountable department, established reporting and governance arrangements for the project.” She said the board provided “regular updates to it on the project”.