The HSE has engaged a legal firm in an attempt at recouping €10m in costs incurred in bringing faulty ventilators from China at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The executive has retained the services of Philip Lee solicitors to aid in its dealings with Roqu Media International, a festival management company which it contracted for the procurement of ventilators in March 2020.
In response to a parliamentary question from Sinn Féin spokesperson on business Louise O’Reilly, the HSE said some €6m of the money in dispute between the two chiefly relates to “logistics fees charged” with regard to the transaction.
The HSE said “there is recourse” available to it to recoup some of the money paid, with that “likely to be through dispute resolution”. Previously, Roqu CEO Robert Quirke said that there is “no dispute” between Roqu and the HSE.
Meanwhile, it has further emerged that a further 250 ventilators were also paid for and received from a Chinese manufacturer, Shenzhen Prunus, in the same month.
Seven of an initial consignment of 20 of those machines were tested upon receipt “and failed”, the HSE said, with the entire delivery of 250 thereafter placed “in quarantine pending decision on future (sic)”.
The total outlay for the Prunus machines was €4.7m. It is as yet unclear whether or not the HSE will seek recourse regarding the Prunus ventilators also.
Ms O’Reilly asked the HSE for records of all faulty equipment it had purchased since the start of 2020.
In response the executive detailed transactions for 450 ventilators. No other kind of faulty equipment is noted.
However, while the 250 Prunus machines were indeed delivered, just 65 of the 300 Roqu machines contracted for arrived, while 34 of those failed quality testing upon arrival.
The figure is slightly short of the 72 which Mr Quirke previously told the Irish Examiner had been delivered.
The HSE paid Roqu €14.1m on or around March 23 for the 300 machines, with the new information stressing that a refund of €3.8m was delivered by the company following “failure to deliver original ventilators specified”.
Previously, Mr Quirke had said, by way of explanation for why his company had part-refunded the transaction, that “it became apparent to the HSE that the quantity of ventilators required was less than initially expected, which was good”.
None of the 65 devices delivered by Roqu were of the Boaray brand for which the company had agreed an initial €35m contract with the HSE.
While the €10.3m paid to Roqu The 315 ventilators received per the HSE response is in fact a deal short of the 465 Chinese ventilators received, and subsequently placed in quarantine, which were specified in a total manifest compiled by the health authority’s Health Business Services section last December.
It is unclear what the discrepancy of 150 relates to.
Commenting on the news, Ms O’Reilly said that while there had been a need to act swiftly to secure medical equipment in March 2020, there had also been “a need for common sense”.
“Not sourcing ventilators through a festival management company would be top of that list,” she said.
She said that the HSE’s response “raises questions as to the oversight of these deals by the State before they spent nearly €19m.”
“There are legitimate questions surrounding how contracts were issued during this period and it’s not good enough for the state to hide behind so-called commercial sensitivity,” she added.
A number of official inquiries into Covid-19 procurement have been commissioned, including internal HSE and Department of Health audits, with the Public Accounts Committee and Comptroller and Auditor General also expected to report on the matter.