herald

Friday 9 December 2016

Fraud squad probe alleged corruption at seven hospitals

HEALTH

FRAUD squad detectives are investigating allegations of fraud at seven hospitals in the State, the Department of Health has revealed.

Two of the hospitals - St Vincent's University in Dublin 4 and The Beacon, Sandyford - have suspended three members of staff following the Prime Time investigation on RTE.

Allegations were made regarding several other private and public healthcare providers, according to sources.

St Colmcille's in Loughlinstown and Midlands Regional Hospital, Mulligar were subsequently audited and no untoward evidence was found.

Meanwhile St Vincent's Healthcare Group said it had not been told that a whistleblower made claims about its private hospital and six other healthcare providers around the country.

Whistleblower

The Department of Health insists it has passed on the information raised by the whistleblower to the HSE and gardai in relation to the hospitals.

But St Vincent's Healthcare Group said it was never contacted by any of the organisations at any stage about this matter.

"The first time management of St Vincent's Private Hospital or the wider St Vincent's Healthcare Group heard of these allegations was when the matter was raised by Health Minister Leo Varadkar on RTE Radio," it said in a statement.

"St Vincent's Healthcare Group will seek from the department and the HSE whatever evidence they have relating to these further allegations, and will investigate them thoroughly".

The Herald is aware of at least three other healthcare providers against whom allegations were made. They told this paper they were unaware of any investigation.

The latest twist came following claims in RTE's Prime Time programme that staff at two hospitals appeared to have broken rules of their employment.

St Vincent's University Hospital and The Beacon, both in Dublin, have suspended three members of staff without prejudice after the TV investigation

According to the RTE report, some staff accepted expensive holidays and gifts, and were accused of passing on commercially sensitive information to a surgical supplies company.

The HSE suspended all payments to Eurosurgical, the company featured in the RTE probe.

The Dail Public Accounts Committee is also expected to investigate procurement issues.

Mr Varadkar said claims that his department and the HSE had been aware of the allegations made on Prime Time since September of last year were "not true".

But he said the allegations made last September were more serious that those raised in the Prime Time investigation this week and information was passed to the garda fraud squad as a result.

He said it was "very disappointing" that anybody working in the health service whether in a public or private would behave in a way that he described "as unethical and driven by greed".

Investigation

St Vincent's said it had "set up an internal investigation team, to be chaired by an external forensic specialist, to examine the allegations notified to the hospital".

"The hospital has also decided to put two employees off duty with pay, and with immediate effect", the hospital added in a statement.

"This means that the two persons concerned, who are both currently on scheduled annual leave, will not be returning to duty while the investigation is under way."

A spokesperson for the Beacon Hospital said: "Beacon Hospital has strict procurement policies and procedures in place. Any alleged breach of these policies is taken extremely seriously.

"Beacon Hospital is carrying out an internal investigation into the allegations made in the Prime Time programme and an employee has been placed on leave until further notice."

The HSE said that both the Beacon and St Vincent's are not part of the HSE.

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