HSE and Dept of Health are ultimately responsible for unaccounted €2.35 million
So what has happened €2.35 million of public money that was channelled through the HSE to the siptu union. HSE chief Brendan Drumm says he has no idea, Siptu say they have never got that money. So what was this fund for, how was it spent and why on earth did no state agency take responsibility for the annual €250,000 fund over eight years? You can read what I think below or hear it here.
The unaccounted and ungoverned €2.35 million was part of a €60 million fund (€12 million over five years) agreed between government and the unions to upskill non clinical staff in the health service such as porters, caters etc. The vast majority of the €60 million was spent on training these low earning health service personnel. The €2.35 was paid about €250,000 a year between 2002 and 2009 – however that does not add up to €2.35 million.
This specific fund was according to reports in the Irish Times for ‘human resources and personnel development schemes and the development of union management partnerships of best practice in health enterprises’. Some of this fund was used for a series of ‘study trips’ to foreign countries to learn about their health systems. No one is denying that these ‘study visits’ took place and some of them were to far away places, Canada, USA (New York, Boston, Savannah, New York in 2006/7/8/9), Australia (2005), via Hong Kong, the UK and Sweden.
However an internal HSE audit into this specific fund has found that there were
- weaknesses in governance, control and accountability of the funds
- poor or no records of travel, hotel and other spending on the trips
- no compliance with HSE policy on foreign travel.
The Dept of Health have confirmed that a small number of officials took part in these unaccounted for study trips, the Dept of Finance said one mid level official did. The HSE have confirmed that some of their staff did and there were the union reps on these trips. And it is my understanding that it is not just siptu reps but other health service unions participated in these trips and this programme.
THis story is hard to pin down as there is very little official information about it apart from a mention of it in the HSE annual report. A central question is – if this money was been allocated since 2002 why are we only finding out about it now? The HSE say that this fund came on to their radar in 2008, that an audit began in April 2009 because of concerns about the fund. This audit has been competed in the last three weeks and was mentioned in the HSE Annual Report which was published last Wednesday (16 June).
The audit clearly shows that there was no proper governance or accounting for this fund between 2005 and 2008. The HSE was responsible for paying it since 2005 prior to this it was the Midland health board.
In advance of the HSE annual reports publication, the story was leaked to the media and first appeared in the Sunday Times 12 days ago. Since then there has been daily coverage based on leaks but it largely went under the radar last week with the Fine Gael leadership antics.
The annual grant of €250,000 went into a bank account called the ‘siptu national health and local authority fund’. However siptu say they never got the money, that it is not their account and that the money is not in their audited accounts. They are carrying out their own internal enquiry but say they are awaiting the HSE audit before they can complete it. Siptu are also investigating one of their officials.
The HSE is continuing their own internal investigation and have referred it to the Garda and the Controller and Auditor General. And both the Depts of Finance and Health have set up their own enquiries. So there are lots of enquiries but no clarity on this issue. Siptu’s Jack O’Conner was quoted in one of the Sunday papers saying how it was ‘extremely damaging’ to the union and questioned the timing of the story breaking.
This is public money allocated by the Dept of Health through the HSE to a union on the back of an agreement with government. Those State agencies are responsible for the correct governance and accounting of any public funds.
Quite clearly last week Brendan Drumm was distancing himself from it saying he could ‘give no good answer’ as to what the money was used for and why it was channelled through the HSE. The Depts of HEalth and Finance are both trying to distance themselves from it. The union is saying they never got the money. This is one pot of money that no one wants to be responsible for. Quite clearly there is a stand off between the HSE and the Dept of Health and Finance on this – all of whom were involved along with the unions.
On 22 June, Chair of the Public Accounts Committee, Bernard Allen said: “From what has emerged over the past week, it raises very serious issues over governance and control of State funds relating to the Department of Health and Finance and the Health Service Executive – who apparently allowed the money to pass through their accounts without adequate controls.” He said the Comptroller and Auditor General will address aspects of how the fund was spent in his annual report. Once this is completed, the PAC will address outstanding issues. This is significant as all other investigators have a vested interest in the fund.
It does seem extraordinary that in such recent times, such large of amounts of money can go from State institutions with little or no governance or accountability. There is more to come from this story.