TDs raise questions over website, PR spending by Children’s Health Ireland

More than €200,000 incurred by body that will run National Children’s Hospital did not comply with State procurement rules

More than €200,000 incurred by body that will run National Children’s Hospital did not comply with State procurement rules

More than €200,000 incurred by body that will run National Children’s Hospital did not comply with State procurement rules

 

Members of the Dáil’s spending watchdog have raised questions about more than €200,000 worth of website and PR costs incurred by Children’s Health Ireland (CHI) that did not comply with the State’s procurement rules. 

TDs on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) are seeking the reason for the spending, and there was criticism over State agencies not using their own staff for such purposes. 

The PAC has been examining instances of non-compliance with procurement procedures by State bodies – including requirements surrounding the need to hold competitive tendering processes.

CHI is the organisation tasked with amalgamating the three existing children’s hospitals in Dublin and ultimately running the new National Children’s Hospital (NCH) when it opens.

Last month the PAC heard from the organisation overseeing the construction of the new facility, the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board (NPHB).

Construction of the NCH – the overall costs of which are on course to top €1.7 billion once fully fitted out – was said to be behind schedule, and there were suggestions that it may not now open until 2024.

CHI separately sent the PAC details of non-compliant procurement for 2019 totaling €690,437, much of which related to IT costs.

Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy said there is an expectation the planned changes to children’s healthcare will “come with a cost” and there’s an understanding that good IT systems will be needed.

However, she took issue with two items of spending totalling more than €200,000.

They were €121,207 spent with Combined Media Company on the development, launch and management of the CHI.jobs website and €83,148 spent on public relations and communications advisory service Q4PR.

CHI said tender processes have since been completed for both services. 

Ms Murphy said the spending “jumped out to me” and said she wanted further information, adding the “overall context” is needed to understand why the costs were incurred.

Sinn Féin TD Matt Carthy questioned the spending on public relations and why a standalone PR company was hired to carry out the work. He also said the PAC needs to get the rationale for both items of expenditure. 

Fianna Fáil TD Marc MacSharry said he has “no issue” with Q4PR, which he said is a “very professional outfit”, but he asked: “why do we need them in the first place?”

The TD said he was sure the Department of Health and the HSE “have communications expertise in-house”.

Mr MacSharry said: “I know in the greater scheme of things it is a relatively small amount of money. But it’s the principle. It’s now the norm that however small a State agency may be . . . as a matter of practice now there’s one or other of the PR companies that is retained to advise”.

PAC chairman Brian Stanley said a letter would be sent to CHI seeking more information on the two items of expenditure.    

The Comptroller and Auditor General, Seamus McCarthy, said the non-compliant spending by CHI is a subset of sums being spent by the organisation. 

He said that an estimate for the cost of the amalgamation process and occupying the new hospital is “in the order of €300 million” and suggested the PAC may be interested in holding a meeting with CHI to discuss this.