Blood bank pays out over €109k on HR probe

Over €109,000 was spent last year by the Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS) on an external human resources investigation of a disciplinary matter.

The disclosure was made in the IBTS’s 2017 financial statements, which show the service had an operating deficit of almost €2m last year, after spending nearly €71m.

Details of the subject or outcome of the investigation were not provided, but the costs were outlined as a HR consultancy firm was engaged without going through procurement normally required for spending over €25,000.

A statement of internal control signed for the board by chairman Anthony Staines said the firm was appointed in 2016 to carry out a formal investigation under the IBTS’s disciplinary and dignity at work procedures.

“At the point of entry into this investigation, it was not contemplated that the investigation costs would exceed this [€25,000] threshold and accordingly an expert investigator who the IBTS had used previously was appointed without a tender process,” the internal control statement said.

It said there was an unexpected effect on costs as both the complexity of the issues involved and the number of witness interviews required grew considerably as the investigation progressed.

“However, as the process was ongoing it was impossible to discontinue the investigation already in train without risking a duplication of costs and potentially undermining the independence of the investigation,” said the statement of internal control.

In such circumstances and given the sensitivity of the matter the IBTS decided to proceed with the investigation to conclusion.

The statement said the total cost of the investigation last year amounted to €109,049, significantly higher than the €27,000 in HR consultancy costs paid in 2016.

The 2017 accounts separately show that a €10,000 termination payment was made last year, in addition to payments of €136,881 under a voluntary redundancy scheme. 

Redundancy costs in the previous two years totalled €796,000.

The IBTS had an average of around 580 employees during 2016 and 2017, including part-time and other workers. 

The number of employees being paid over €60,000 last year was 107, including 16 paid more than €100,000, five more than in 2016.

Last year saw external consultancy costs for legal advice rise more than 50% from €299,000 to €463,000, and €234,000 was paid in fees associated with legal proceedings.

The impact of a defective device used from 2014 to late 2015 to measure donor’s blood iron levels continued to be felt during 2017. 

The IBTS claim that readings were faulty which gave rise to some donors becoming anaemic as their donation was accepted after the device indicated safe haemoglobin levels.

While the board received payment late last year from the suppliers of the device, in part settlement of a legal case initiated in the Commercial Court, legal action by eight donors against the IBTS which were ongoing at the reporting date.

The financial statement said three of the cases were settled by the end of May, adding to the board’s costs after paying out €166,745 in 2016 to reimburse donors’ GP fees in connection with the device’s withdrawal.

The settlements appear to be separate from settlements of €250,000 made by the IBTS last year, which were up from €20,000 in 2016.

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