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A hospital ventilator (stock image) Shutterstock/Terelyuk

Over 100 faulty ventilators ordered by HSE in March 2020 still in storage amid legal dispute

The HSE is currently seeking to recoup €22.3 million for faulty and undelivered ventilators.

LAST UPDATE | 11 May 2023

THE HSE HAS said that over 100 ventilators ordered from China during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic remain in “quarantine”, as the health service seeks to recoup €22.3 million for unreceived or unusable ventilators.

Appearing before the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee (PAC) this morning, HSE CEO Bernard Gloster said that staff had to “deliberately over order” ventilators as part of efforts to “secure necessary volume of supply, knowing that cancelling later and managing the financial risk would be factors that might arise”.

HSE representatives appeared before the committeeto discuss a report from the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG), which found that the health service had bought ten times as many ventilators as required.

Initially, HSE clinical staff had estimated that an additional 326 ventilators would be needed as part of surge capacity planning in March 2020. 

The Department of Health sanctioned the purchase of 1,900 ventilators following proposals by the HSE.

However, the report details that, between 3 March and 14 April 2020, 3,500 ventilators were ordered by the HSE – almost double what the Department of Health had sanctioned and over ten times the number of ventilators that the HSE had estimated were needed.

In total, the HSE spent €101.5 million on ventilators, of which €20.5 million went to known suppliers and €81 million went to previously unknown suppliers.

Of this, the health service has had €50.5 million refunded.

Additionally, the HSE is currently seeking to refund €22.3 million from suppliers through the legal process, either for ventilators that were not received or were unusable.

The HSE’s chief financial officer Stephen Mulvany said that €500,000 had been spent to date in legal costs to recover sums spent on ventilators from the previously unused suppliers.

“We’re not saying we’ll get it all, but we will continue to pursue it as long as it makes sense to do so and it does make sense to do so,” he said of the outstanding millions.

“We could just as easily be sitting here having an inquiry about why we didn’t have enough ventilators.”

He continued: “The issue was a real fear that we wouldn’t have sufficient ventilators to be able to provide care to people.

“My preference would be to be sitting here arguing over why we’re down to the last €22 million we haven’t been able to yet secure, than here having a discussion about why people died because we didn’t have enough ventilators.” 

There are currently 102 ventilators purchased from China in “quarantine”, with the HSE saying they did not meet quality standards.

In his opening statement, Gloster said that normal tendering processes did not apply and that due to the high demand for ventilators, there were “eBay style bidding wars”.

“Normal purchasing and sourcing practices did not apply. Payment in advance was effectively mandatory, even then, with no guarantee it would secure delivery,” Gloster told the committee.

“There was no compromise on quality or actions that put lives at risk, with ventilators tested after delivery and before any were put in service.

“The entire process in those weeks was about balancing risks. A greater level of financial and procurement risk outside of the norm was and had to be preferred over the very real risk to the public.”

In total, the HSE received 1,048 ventilators for a total of €28,627,546.

“Assessing requirements for volume of products, including ventilators was an impossible task with no realistic predictability models in the early months,” Gloster said.

“The staff involved at the time had to deliberately over order to try and secure necessary volume of supply, knowing that cancelling later and managing the financial risk would be factors that might arise.”

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