Positive Action sought €476,000 funding in 2013

HSE restricted payment for international conferences, alcohol, band hire and gifts

Positive Action sought €476,000 in funding from the HSE in 2013 after bringing unsuccessful judicial review proceedings against the executive over changes to how its spending was governed.

The HSE wrote to the organisation in June last year setting out the funding sought by Positive Action for 2013 against the amount of funding the HSE felt was appropriate.

The organisation sought €32,666 for education and training of which it received just €2,000.

The HSE said the estimated €15,000 sought for members of Positive Action to attend international conferences was “not the best use of public funds” as it held that these conferences were “intended for a clinical/academic audience only”.


It also said it was not proposing to fund counselling/ psychological sessions which it said were covered under the Health Amendment Act (HAA) card scheme.

The HSE approved a budget of €35,000 for members’ weekends, workshops and meetings, less than a third of the almost €124,000 sought by the organisation for this purpose.

It said it would not fund complementary therapies or counselling because it said these services were available under the HAA card. It added that expenditure incurred should not include alcohol, band hire, gifts and tips.

Delegate expenses

It agreed to grant €25,000 in funding for executive committee and delegate expenses, €66,281 less than was sought by the organisation. The HSE said mileage and subsistence rates “should be paid in line with public service rates ”.

It stipulated that “no additional expenditure should be incurred on items such as gifts, tips, meals, snacks . . . Christmas parties (including mileage to/from), mileage to and from weekends (and) mobile phones” and that the “use of taxis should be closely monitored and only for essential use”.

It refused the full €58,880 requested by the organisation for legal fees.

It proposed granting €7,500 (a figure later revised upwards to €12,700) of almost €20,500 sought by the organisation for office maintenance and running costs.

The HSE said that only essential office refreshments should be provided for staff, visitors and members and that “take away meals to the office and catering do not represent best use of public funds”.

In response the organisation said the level of funding proposed by the HSE amounted to “a decimation of Positive Action’s funding such as to deprive it of any meaningful functionality” and was a “potentially fatal blow” to the organisation.

It defended its funding on a number of grounds including attendance at international conferences which it said were of “central importance” as they provided “the only arena where we can obtain non-biased information”.

It also said that members’ weekends offered “critical” support to members who were “isolated, both geographically and emotionally”.

Funding accepted On August 15th, after the HSE had agreed to increase funding under some categories, the organisation said it would accept the funding offered: €198,000 for the 2013 calendar year, minus €27,234 held in a second bank account which the HSE said was not properly disclosed to it.

However, Positive Action put on record its “deep dissatisfaction” with the funding provided which it said “severely curtailed [its] ability to provide meaningful services to its membership”.

On September 5th last year the organisation was informed it would be subject to an audit by the HSE’s internal audit office.

In late 2013 the organisation requested more than €515,000 in funding for 2014 but it was told in March 2014 that its funding was to cease.

The organisation went into liquidation in April with debts of €107,000.

Timeline: How events unfolded

1994: Positive Action is formed as a support group – primarily for women who became infected with hepatitis C after receiving anti-D immunoglobulin produced by the Irish Blood Transfusion Service Board between 1977 and 1991 – and lobbies for compensation, including healthcare and counselling, for those affected.

February 1996: The organisation votes not to submit applications to the tribunal appointed by the then minister for health, Michael Noonan, to deal with claims from infected people calling it "flawed and unfair".

Some 400 individual writs have, at this date, been lodged with the High Court against the minister for health, the Blood Transfusion Service Board, the National Drugs Advisory Board, Ireland, and the attorney general.

June 1996: Members of Positive Action apply to the government compensation tribunal "under protest".

October 2nd, 1996: Positive Action member Brigid McCole, a 54-year-old mother of 12 from Co Donegal who brought the first test case to the High Court for compensation dies from liver failure, days before the case is due to begin.

October 8th, 1996: The family of Ms McCole receives an apology in the High Court on behalf of the Blood Transfusion Service Board for the illness and distress she suffered "through its fault". Minister Michael Noonan announces a tribunal of inquiry into all issues surrounding the infection of people by the anti-D vaccine administered by the board.

February 3rd, 1997: Legal counsel for Positive Action tells the tribunal that the circumstances surrounding the infection of anti-D immunoglobulin in 1977 and 1991 should be referred to the director of public prosecutions (DPP).

March 11th, 1997: The Hepatitis C Tribunal of Inquiry report is published. The government refers the report to the DPP.

March 20th, 1997: The government says it will amend its compensation scheme to grant additional special damages to the 1,600 victims of the hepatitis C scandal.

March 25th, 1997: The minister announces that a compensation scheme for victims will be put on a statutory basis following a Positive Action request with provision for an appeal to the High Court on the amount of awards.

April 16th, 1997: The Blood Transfusion Service Board admits legal liability in all cases of hepatitis C caused by contaminated blood products having previously admitting liability in just Ms McCole's case and one other.

April 1997: Positive Action and another organisation representing hepatitis C victims, Transfusion Positive, seek increases in the government offer of aggravated damages. The government raises its offer for aggravated damages by an estimated £40 million.

October 21st, 1997: Positive Action expresses "shock, hurt and bitter disappointment" following the DPP's decision not to take action in relation to matters uncovered by the tribunal of inquiry into anti-D.

November 10th, 1997: Jane O'Brien, the chairwoman of Positive Action, receives a People of the Year award for her work on behalf of infected women.

January 15th, 2002: Positive Action receives more than 200 calls to its helpline after the airing of the RTÉ programme No Tears, some of whom said they had received anti-D but were never tested for the virus.

May 2011: Positive Action expresses concerns at HSE plans to conduct a fresh assessment of victims' needs.

November 2011: The HSE tells Positive Action it is required to sign a standard service level agreement for 2012 as required of all section 39 agencies in receipt of funding in excess of €250,000 per annum.

March 2012: The HSE restricts funding to Positive Action while it seeks further information on spending for 2010 and 2011. The Irish Times reveals that Positive Action spent almost €100,000 on weekends away and conferences in 2010.

February 28th, 2013: Positive Action begins judicial review proceedings against the HSE over the change in the governing of its funding. May 1st, 2013: Mr Justice George Birmingham rules against the organisation, saying "no illegality attaches to the decision of the HSE to impose conditions in relation to future funding".

January 30th, 2014: The HSE takes over the running of Positive Action after raising "serious concerns" over its governance and management of public money.

March 3rd, 2014: The HSE writes to Positive Action announcing its decision to withdraw funding due to what it describes as "significant deficits" in the governance of the organisation.

April 2014: The organisation goes into liquidation with debts of €107,000.

September 8th, 2014: The Irish Times reveals that a complaint over a "suspected fraud of funds" at the hepatitis C support group contributed to the HSE's decision to cease funding to the organisation.

October 22nd, 2014: An internal audit of the organisation shows that, in a four-year period, it spent €104,000 on travel to conferences, over €100,000 on therapies, €19,450 on supermarket bills and €2,223 on gifts, while more than €600 was spent on alcohol at a conference on liver disease.