27 January 2014 | Gurjit Degun
A health trust in Northern Ireland has spent an estimated £5.7 million that was not subject to the appropriate controls or procurement over the past 14 years.
Northern Ireland health minister Edwin Poots said that the government has found a “serious lack of control” within the estates management function in the Northern Health and Social Care Trust (NHSCT).
An investigation by the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety found cases of: single tender actions awarded without formal approval; a contractor working without a contract for several years; contractors used outside of their contracted areas; documentation missing from files to verify expenditure; lack of checks on work carried out and invoices presented for payment; and contracts being completed in excess of tender quotation due to additional work undertaken.
The report followed several whistle-blower allegations in 2012 over potential procurement and management malpractice of building maintenance.
“The BSO Counter Fraud and Probity Unit has analysed findings from the report and has concluded there is no clear evidence of fraudulent activity,” said Poots in a written statement. “However, whilst the investigations found no incidence where services were paid for which were not provided, it was not possible to verify if this expenditure represented value for money in all cases.
“The total value of work that has not been subject to appropriate control or procurement is estimated as £5.7m over the past 14 years. This is a matter of serious concern.”
The report contained 72 recommendations, all of which the NHSCT has accepted, and has “made significant progress” in implementing them, said Poots.
Poots added the health department is undertaking a series of procurement audits and compliance checks across all trusts as a result of the findings.
A statement from NHSCT said: “While the extensive investigation did not uncover any fraud, it did report weaknesses in procurement, management and control of public funds over an extended period of time, which may not have achieved best value for money. The Trust fully recognises this was unacceptable.
“The Trust cannot change what has happened in the past but is committed to learning the lessons contained in the report and ensuring that all departments and staff adhere to the policies and procedures required when obtaining and paying for services from outside companies.”