Allegations of ‘abject failure’ on PPE purchase rejected

Independent TD Verona Murphy demands HSE accountability over ‘mismanagement’

HSE boss Paul Reid told the committee he will provide a ‘summary note’ outlining the cost of the unused PPE. File photograph: The Irish Times

HSE boss Paul Reid told the committee he will provide a ‘summary note’ outlining the cost of the unused PPE. File photograph: The Irish Times

 

The Health Service Executive was engaged in an “ebay style war” for personal protective equipment (PPE) at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has been told

HSE chief executive Paul Reid refuted suggestions from Independent TD Verona Murphy that “all caution was thrown to the wind” during the procurement of PPE in early 2020.

She suggested that the wastage from faulty PPE was “well in excess of other countries, there was no control measures in place”.

There was “worldwide reporting of fraud” at the time and she felt that the HSE had not taken on board lessons from the pandemic.

She accused the HSE and its procurement department of an “extraordinary, abject failure” in paying €81 million for 2,100 ventilators which were “of no use whatsoever. “What the public want is accountability. Who has been accountable for the mismanagement and abject failure?”

Ms Murphy was speaking on the second day of PAC hearings into the HSE accounts for 2020.

The ventilators had been purchased at a time when it was anticipated there may have been 40,000 deaths as a result of the pandemic.

Previously, members of the committee had been told that a third of the €900 million spent on PPE had to be written off because the quantities published and the high prices paid.

“I can’t see how you can see it or defend it any way,” she told Mr Reid. “I am fully understanding when we are in dire straits but not with the day-to-day requirement of procurement.”

Mr Reid responded by stating that he “absolutely rejected some of the comments and accusations that you made”.

Mr Reid said a significant proportion of the €81 million spent on ventilators which were not used has been recovered as previously outlined to the committee.

The HSE had set out to purchase 2,100 ventilators but stopped procurement when they had sufficient machines.

“You keep cutting me short on this,” he said during testy exchanges at the PAC.

“I don’t think you accept the worldwide context in which we had to do this. There have been many learnings from procurement reports that we have fully embraced. The HSE did this country proud and that should not be lost either.”

Sinn Féin reaction

Sinn Féin TD Imelda Munster suggested that Ireland seemed to have spent more on unused PPE than “any other country”.

She asked whether or not the HSE was going to provide a figure for unusable PPE. “To date we don’t have a figure for how much the HSE blew, for want of a better word, on PPE products that can’t be used.”

Mr Reid said he will provide a “summary note” outlining the cost of the unused PPE.

“When we were in the middle of a complete world chase for PPE, we erred on the side of protecting the public and protecting staff,” he added.

“This health system punched well above its wait with our international ambassadors, the IDA and many agencies.”

PAC chairman Brian Stanley said members of the committee were anxious to get the figure within the next fortnight from the HSE.