Lessons needed from 'absolute scramble' to procure ventilators which were never used

Lessons needed from 'absolute scramble' to procure ventilators which were never used

A contract had been signed for 328 ventilators. Just 64 were eventually provided. File photo: AP

“Lessons will have to be learned” from the situation which saw the HSE pay €14.1m to import ventilators from China which were never used, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) this afternoon heard from representatives from the State’s procurement body regarding issues related to national contracts.

Paul Quinn, the head of the Office of Government Procurement, said that findings regarding the ventilator transaction with festival management company Roqu Media International “are a matter for the HSE”.

He said that the procurement, which occurred in March and April 2020, “was done on an emergency basis”. 

“It is not what we do on an ongoing basis either centrally or otherwise," Mr Quinn said.

He said his “strong recollection” of the time was one of an “absolute scramble” to secure personal protective equipment and other medical supplies for the health service.

“The normal good functioning of public procurement, in particular due diligence, had to be examined in terms of balance of risk and balance of speed,” he said of the situation which led to a contract being signed for 328 ventilators.

Just 64 ventilators were eventually provided, all of which were quarantined for quality-related issues.

“Lessons will have to be learned,” Mr Quinn said.

State employees also said lessons needed to be learned from the ongoing issues surrounding the National Children's Hospital (NCH) project in terms of costs and deadline overruns.

The two-stage tendering process of that project has been criticised with Mr Quinn, who had been on the board of the Children's Hospital until August 2019, defending the use of such a tender. He said there is “no specific finding that the use of a two-stage process alone caused the escalation in costs”.

“The option was available not to proceed with the costs, and that was a decision made by Government at the time,” he said.

Asked whether the State had the option to go for dual-tendering again, would it do so, acting secretary general of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, David Moloney, said “there are circumstances where it may be advisable”.

Mr Moloney added that the NCH project, which is now expected to be delivered a minimum of four years late in early 2024, has provided “a lot of lessons to be learned in terms of such bespoke mega-projects”.

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