The HSE was aware of a number of red flags concerning a deal with an Irish media company to import ventilators from China, but proceeded with the contract as “clinical need outweighs the identified risks”.
A briefing document on the deal prepared by the executive’s head of procurement Sean Bresnan in late March directed that a deal for 1,000 ventilators be concluded with Roqu Media International, a festival management company with no Irish trading history.
Some €14.1m was paid to Roqu for the contract, which saw a limited number of ventilators delivered to Ireland by end April 2020. The delivered machines did not meet the quality assurance standards set by the HSE and were never deployed in a clinical setting.
The confidential briefing document, which has been seen by the, states that Robert Quirke, the CEO of Roqu, approached the HSE with an offer of securing ventilators from China at a time of a global procurement blitz for the lifesaving machines.
Two ventilators were flown to Ireland at Roqu’s expense and were tested — by the HSE’s Dr Michael Power and Ger Flynn, a clinical engineer — and deemed satisfactory for deployment, in Cork University Hospital on March 20.
Dr Power subsequently recommended that “if there are no other ventilators available” he would have “no hesitation” in using both machines in Irish ICUs.
However, the HSE’s due diligence on the deal detailed six separate potential issues regarding the deal — three of which were deemed of medium risk, and three of ‘red flag’ status.
One red flag noted that the test ventilators had no ‘CE’ mark — an indicator that a product meets EU safety, health, or environmental requirements — despite being accompanied by EU certification.
A second flag was raised when inquiries revealed that the founder of the Chinese company which was expected to provide the ventilators had never heard of Mr Quirke’s contact in China — a Dr Lisa Wang — and that the Roqu chief was not dealing directly with the wholesaler but via a third party, Shanghai Linghang, which dealt primarily in food products and for whom Dr Wang worked.
The owner of the manufacturing company Prunus, a Mr Zhou Ni, further confirmed that he had “no idea that Linghang Group was representing their products”.
Linghang advised the HSE meanwhile that “they would be unable to supply Prunus products in the volume discussed because of huge supply demand”, but would instead “fulfil the order by supplying ‘Prunus-like’ ventilators from a range of Chinese manufacturing plants”.
This was deemed “high risk” by the HSE, given “there is no mechanism of ensuring that the quality of machine received is consistent with the standard of machine which met the engineering and clinical review in CUH”.
At the time of the contract, Roqu Media International Limited had current assets of just €122 and no trading history, per its 2018 accounts.
The HSE has previously said it is no longer utilising the services of Roqu and is "in continuing discussion with Roqu with a view to resolving all issues".
In a statement to thein December, Roqu said: “In light of media coverage, we would like to put on record that Roqu has at all times acted in good faith under the direction and supervision of the HSE”.