The HSE has yet to decide if it will provide funding this year for a hepatitis C support group after an internal audit found “significant extravagance” and “governance deficiencies” in its use of public funds.
The internal HSE audit of Transfusion Positive Ltd also identified “a significant failure” on the part of its two directors to maintain and retain adequate financial records. In fact, the group admitted to destroying financial records, saying it was “not aware” it had to maintain them.
Against this backdrop, the group spent more than 90% of the €1.5m in public funding it got between 2009-2014 on overseas trips; weekends away; dining; expenses of the executive committee members/ directors; complementary/beauty therapies; and legal costs. The audit of Transfusion Positive Ltd’s expenditure 2009-2014 shows almost €70,000 spent on trips to Boston, Berlin, Copenhagen, and Vienna to attend health conferences mainly designed for clinicians.
One Boston trip in 2009 where four directors/executive committee members attended cost €27,500. During the trip, a bill for Skipjacks Seafood Restaurant showed there were 14 guests at a cost of $1,014. There was also a bill of $155 for Martini, Heineken, and Bombay Sapphire at Bricco Ristorante Boston.
- €547,000 on 36 weekends away in Ireland. These included €149,000 at Fitzgerald’s Woodlands Hotel and Spa Adare, €128,000 at the Connemara Coast Hotel in Galway, and €64,000 at Vienna Woods Hotel in Cork;
- €425,000 on expense claims of the executive committee and €131,00 on complementary therapies;
- €58,000 on annual rent of a premises on Clanwilliam Square which the audit said was essentially used one and a half days per week.
Bills totalling more than €100,000 were paid using one of the director’s personal credit cards which was effectively treated as Transfusion Positive’s company credit card. Other examples of the type of expenditure incurred included six gift cards from Claire’s Accessories totalling €90; €593 on curtains; €144 on a boat sightseeing trip in Berlin; €4,000 on sweets and fizzy drinks; a Penny’s receipt for “knickknacks” costing €301; bills of up to €864 to collect and “drop stuff” to hotels; €2,000 on pool table hire; and €2,000 on a physiotherapy table that was never listed among the company’s assets.
The auditors made 52 recommendations on foot of their findings and gave each a ‘high’ rating, meaning they were designed to address “a significant risk of substantial financial loss, and/or accounting error and/or major non-compliance with policies or regulations” and must be immediately addressed.
Transfusion Positive has agreed to implement the majority, and has done so already in some cases.
The support group was set up in 1995 and formed as a company in 2002. It provides support to men, women and children infected with hepatitis C as a result of receiving contaminated blood from the State. It has about 300 members. It is currently receiving HSE funding to cover fixed costs such as rent, but is still in negotiations with the HSE regarding a 2016 service level agreement. No funding has issued for 2016 so far.
In 2014, Positive Action, a support group for women given infected Anti-D by the State, had its funding pulled after a HSE audit found “inappropriate and extravagant” use of public funds.
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