HSE faces EU fines over procurement

At the weekend, the Independent published a story about HSE recruitment: HSE facing huge EU fines over tender delays

The taxpayer could face huge EU fines because of the failure of the Health Service Executive (HSE) to issue new tenders for agencies to provide doctors and nurses across the country.

In recent years, procurement competitions involving healthcare personnel have been subject to significant challenges, the recent High Court action brought by healthcare providers being just another example. One of the reasons for this may be that when dealing with outsourcing of specialised services, it is difficult to award contracts where much of the criteria relates to subjective judgement around the quality of personnel and support processes.

Nonetheless, it is unacceptable - given the level of support available to buyers from organisations such as the Office of Government Procurement - that procedural issues remain in the effective administration of contracts.

Ultimately, the issue is one of transparency. The public procurement rules are clear as to how public contracts are advertised, awarded and administered. Any deviation from these rules must call into question the framework and suggests that those responsible don't actually care whether they are following the rules or not. If this is the case, it's very disappointing - especially given all the effort the Government, the Office of Government Procurement and bodies such as Intertrade Ireland have been expending in encouraging suppliers to participate in public competitions.

A Procurement Ombudsman has been mooted several times in the recent past. The idea is that an ombudsman would keep public servants on the right side of EU and national legislation, but sadly there's no sign of that happening soon. It is more than a shame that the HSE, charged with administering health services, has failed to administer its own contracts, with the net impact being fewer resources available to deliver health services in Ireland.

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