The HSE paid close to €18 million to a single consultancy firm over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic for services, including the ‘optimisation’ of the contact tracing programme.
Consultants EY received €17.7 million from the health service from the beginning of 2020 until the end of March 2021.
The group was brought in to advise on the HSE’s initial response to the coronavirus, most notably regarding the expansion of contact tracing, for which EY executive Niamh O'Beirne became the national lead.
All told €12.4 million was paid for Covid support services, €5 million of that being spent in the first three months of this year, according to records released under freedom of information.
Some €3.5 million of that figure went towards the HSE’s Integrated National Operations Hub (INOH), presided over by chief operations officer Anne O’Connor, which managed the co-ordinated response to the virus between State services and external consultants operating under service level agreements via the Office for Government Procurement (OGP).
More recently, just under €1.3 million was paid to EY for the service of its ‘One Government Centre’ (1GC) data analytics tool, which saw data requested from across Government in order to advise on strategic decisions regarding the handling of the pandemic, while €885,000 has been spent - the vast majority of it in 2021 - on financial analysis of the HSE’s Winter and Pandemic plans.
EY was also paid €2.18 million to operate as the “relevant accountants” for the “Covid Private Hospitals Arrangement” between March and June of 2020.
That first deal with the private hospital groups - which stemmed from fears that the State hospital services would be overwhelmed by the virus, something which did not transpire - cost in the region of €340 million for the full takeover of the private hospitals, a deal which was harshly criticised at the time.
In terms of contract tracing, €1.96 million was paid to EY for its ‘Covid-19 Testing Process Optimisation Project’ across 2020, with a further €1 million paid in the first three months of this year for the consultancy group’s testing and tracing operational model, a cost of about €340,000 per month.
An additional €294,000 has been paid by the HSE in 2021 only for a ‘Contact Tracing Centre Service Improvement Programme’.
In response to a parliamentary question from Labour TD Sean Sherlock last October, Ms O’Connor said that the various consultancy firms which had been paid retainers over Covid-19 each had “significant prior experience and knowledge in particularly relevant areas within the HSE through existing service level agreements and ongoing projects and so, therefore, were positioned to quickly take up programmes of work at scale in response to the Covid-19 demands”.
That work had been carried out pro bono until the end of March 2020, she said, and thereafter “specific terms of engagement” were agreed with the various firms in question.
She added that roughly €5 million had been paid as of October 20, 2020.