HSE’s €1m spend on national children’s hospital PR ‘unacceptable’

HSE spent over €11m on consultancy fees for national children’s hospital group

A view of the construction site of the national children’s hospital. File photograph Tom Honan

A view of the construction site of the national children’s hospital. File photograph Tom Honan

 

The Health Service Executive spent more than €11 million on consultancy fees for the National Children’s hospital group last year, and more than €1 million on public relations for the controversial project in recent years.

Documents sent by the HSE to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) show that consultancy firm Q4PR has received a total of €1.02 million since 2015, which committee members branded as “unacceptable”.

Catherine Connolly TD said the “story of a children’s hospital is a story that is sufficient in itself”, arguing that there was no need to engage external consultants to work on media relations.

Members also criticised €11.2 million being spent on external consultants for the children’s hospital group last year, the largest bill for consultancy paid out by the HSE last year. It was significantly larger than the next-highest consultancy fee disclosed, which was for mental health services and amounted to €1.7 million.

Transparency

Social Democrats co-leader Catherine Murphy, a member of the PAC, said spending on external consultancy not only “costs real money in the here and now, but also ensures we never build up in-house expertise to ensure such scenarios don’t arise again”.

Ms Murphy called for improved transparency, saying “we cannot continue to find out these things after the event on a piecemeal basis that is akin to following breadcrumbs”.

The correspondence shows that the consultancy work related to IT projects, clinical and operational support, medical equipping and other design issues, as well as corporate services and “change management”.

The costs were incurred in relation to the integration of Crumlin, Temple Street and Tallaght children’s hospitals, rather than directly on the national children’s hospital, which is under construction and has run significantly over budget.

Committee chairman Sean Fleming said he was unhappy, however, with how more information about the costs of the children’s hospital group is coming into the public domain.

Integration

“It appears there’s a lot of money being spent integrating the children’s hospitals. We have to be given the full picture of what is going to be involved in getting it fully operational, there’s costs appearing here, there and everywhere at this stage,” he said.

A spokesman for Children’s Health Ireland said the consultancy spend was part of the business case for the new children’s hospital which was approved in 2017. It said the integration of the three children’s hospitals was “highly complex” and has many different areas of focus.

“The children’s hospital programme is in place to ensure that the staff of all three hospitals are working seamlessly as one entity before they move into the two paediatric outpatient and urgent care centres at CHI at Connolly and Tallaght and the new children’s hospital in 2023,” he said.

The correspondence sent to PAC also shows that €9.2 million was spent on solicitors working for the HSE last year, and €3.37 million on barristers fees. A further €3 million was spent on reimbursement by the HSE of third-party legal costs agreed as part of litigation settled against the HSE.