Health staff appointed without approval or competition, audit finds

Management say majority of staff involved were being redeployed to alternative roles

A HSE report found a number of internal control weaknesses over recruitment and contracted hours in Sligo-Leitrim mental health services. Photograph: iStock

A HSE report found a number of internal control weaknesses over recruitment and contracted hours in Sligo-Leitrim mental health services. Photograph: iStock

 

HSE auditors found no evidence of prior approval being in place or competitions being held before a number of healthcare staff were appointed to roles in the northwest.

A HSE internal report published on Tuesday found a number of internal control weaknesses over recruitment and contracted hours in Sligo-Leitrim mental health services had been identified.

It said these included “the lack of an organisational recruitment approval system, weak controls over recruitment processes, contracted hours, advance pay and incomplete human resource files”.

The HSE review was carried out into a number of appointments made between 2008 and 2019 following a protected disclosure that raised concerns about contracted hours and processes surrounding some specific appointments in the services.

The internal audit review, which looked at six particular appointments, said there was no evidence of prior approval for the appointments using completed official approval forms and no business cases.

“In general recruitment was by initial informal assignment followed by formal appointment several years later, albeit via an incomplete and unsatisfactory approval process.”

No competition

The audit said that in five of six cases reviewed, there was no evidence of competition for the appointment. In one case, management said there had been a competition but that there was “little evidence of this on the personnel file and the competition file could not be located”.

The audit also found that an increase in working hours for one employee had been based on a verbal agreement at local level with no written authorisation.

Management told the auditors the mental health service had actively sought the review following receipt of the protected disclosure.

They maintained the majority of the posts under review did not involve new appointments via a formal recruitment process but rather the redeployment of existing personnel into alternative roles where their position was no longer required.

Management said the audit focused on a historic point in time when there was no human resources department in place in Sligo-Leitrim either generally or within the mental health services. They said local managers took on this responsibility and any and all errors made were acts of omission made without any malicious intent.

Other reviews

Separately, another HSE internal audit found “unsatisfactory” controls at Canal Communities Regional Addiction Services, a group that works with people in drug recovery in Inchicore, Dublin.

The chair did not sign off board minutes, and key areas such as risk and conflicts of interest were not standing items on the board’s agenda. There was no evidence that three employees who required Garda vetting were in fact vetted. Two of these employees worked with vulnerable adults.

A separate review found that Northside Community Health Initiative Ltd in Cork – which is mainly funded by public bodies including Tusla and the HSE – was on occasion operating contrary to the terms of its own constitution. “As well as counter to governance best practice, the main legal risk with acting ultra vires is the potential implications when contracting with third parties, in that the contract could be deemed void.”

The organisation had more than €400,000 in bank account balances at the end of 2017, increasing the risk of “overfunding” for services and counter to official guidelines.