Government official on hospital board defends decision not to flag overrun

Paul Quinn accepts “in hindsight” he should have told PAC about hospital board role at an earlier stage

The Government has come under significant pressure to explain how the cost of the national children’s hospital rose from an estimated €800 million in 2014 to the current figure of €1.73 billion. Photograph:  Collins

The Government has come under significant pressure to explain how the cost of the national children’s hospital rose from an estimated €800 million in 2014 to the current figure of €1.73 billion. Photograph: Collins

 

A senior Government official who is also a member of the national children’s hospital board has defended his decision not to inform the Government of the emerging cost escalations at the hospital.

Paul Quinn, the Government’s chief procurement officer, has written to the Public Accounts Committee and said he felt satisfied that the significant overruns were already being flagged with the Department of Health and the HSE.

Mr Quinn said, however, that he accepts “in hindsight” that he should have informed the PAC at an earlier stage that he had a role on the board, which he says he holds in a personal capacity.

He referred to a letter he sent to the committee last month where he did not mention his role and instead discussed the “limited” role that his office had in the project.

“I accept in hindsight that I should have advised that I was a member of the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board having been appointed in a personal capacity by the Minister for Health in 2013.

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“My work on the board is separate and distinct from the Office of Government Procurement’s role in the project.”

The Government has come under significant pressure to explain how the cost of the hospital rose from an estimated €800 million in 2014 to the current figure of €1.73 billion. The Government only became aware of the final figure last November, despite concerns being flagged months earlier by the hospital board.

Flag concerns

In his letter, Mr Quinn defended his decision not to flag concerns with the Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe.

“I did not inform either the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform or the secretary general of that Department as I was satisfied that the NPHDB was addressing the matters and reporting to both the HSE and Department of Health. I have discussed this with the Minister for Public Expenditure, who has accepted my judgment in this regard, and that I have met all of the responsibilities that I have as a member of the board.”

External design of the new children’s hospital is unveiled
External design of new national children’s hospital.

He said he is aware of a circular which obliges civil servants to report concerns if they feel the issue is not being addressed.

“I was and am satisfied that the cost issues which developed over the summer and autumn of 2018 were being appropriately addressed by the board and the chairman, that the HSE as the funder of the NPHDB were aware of the issues given their integration into the committee structure of the board, and that the issues were being communicated on an ongoing basis to both the HSE and Department of Health . . .”

‘Procurement expertise’

“I do not represent either the Department of Public Expenditure or the Office of Government Procurement on that board, and was appointed because of my procurement expertise.”

He said if he were to move to a different role outside of his department, “then my role on the board would continue. I should also point out that I do not, nor have I ever, received any additional remuneration or expenses for my role on the board”.

Secretary general of the Department of Public Expenditure Robert Watt is due to appear before the PAC next week.