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HSE warned at start of pandemic that it 'may not receive' quantities of PPE it had paid for

The HSE was given the warning by auditors in June last year.

Image: Alamy Stock Photo

HSE AUDITORS WARNED the health service last year that it had limited ability to ensure that already-paid for PPE orders were being delivered in full, new records show.

An audit report released to The Journal’s investigative platform Noteworthy under the Freedom of Information Act found there was a risk that the HSE “may not receive the correct quantities and types of PPE” because of problems with the process whereby goods were marked as having been received at a Dublin warehouse.

The internal audit was carried out in mid-May 2020 at a Dublin warehouse which was receiving orders of PPE from China, and a report completed in June 2020.

The audit sought to determine the level of assurance that could be provided to HSE management around so-called receipting processes at the warehouse, and to assess the security and general set-up operations at the facility.

It was completed while PPE worth around €260 million ordered from China, including millions of face shields, gloves, goggles, gowns, respirator masks and surgical masks, was being processed at the warehouse.

This included approximately 33 million pieces of equipment worth €30 million, which were ordered as part of an initial batch on 10 April, and a second batch containing 56.4 million items worth €230 million which was ordered on a second, unspecified date.

The second larger batch was in the process of being receipted while the audit was underway, and auditors noted that the warehouse was receiving hundreds of thousands of pieces of PPE every day on the week the assessment was carried out in mid-May.

HSE audit Source: HSE

The stock was received at the warehouse and distributed with the assistance of the army, as well as HSE logistics teams and distribution agents.

“The Dublin warehouse is the key receipting location for flights from China,” the audit report reads.

  • The Noteworthy team wants to find out if funds on Covid contracts were spent wisely and rules followed. Support this project here.

The auditors noted that the HSE’s logistics teams had developed procedures for receipting of PPE stock which were followed and that checklists were completed and maintained.

However, they also described the receipting process in place at the Dublin warehouse at the time as “inherently limited”.

“While the warehouse can evidence that it captures and records all information on all stock received and distributed, there is no visibility on purchase orders or complete accurate flight manifest details to reconcile to what should be received from the orders,” the report reads.

The issue was ranked as ‘high’ priority finding that required immediate action and was deemed to present a “significant risk” of substantial financial loss, accounting error or major non-compliance with HSE policies.

Under a heading about the possible implications of the problem, the auditors wrote: “Risk that the HSE may not receive the correct quantities and types of PPE stock that it has ordered and in some cases has paid for in advance.”

They recommended that the HSE needed to document and implement a process that provided “assurance that the PPE stock ordered and paid for is being received in its entirety”.

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“This may involve a full reconciliation of all orders to the cumulative stock records maintained by the warehouse,” the report continued.

The recommendation was accepted in full by the director of Health Business Services – the business division of the HSE – and it was agreed to implement a new system by the third quarter of 2020.

The Journal asked the HSE whether the recommendation had since been implemented, and whether there was any stock not delivered as part of orders for PPE at the beginning of the pandemic.

A spokesperson said that a standard receipting system was implemented at the Dublin warehouse in October 2020 and that there was “no stock outstanding from any purchase orders” placed at the beginning of the pandemic.

In September, HSE CEO Paul Reid told an Oireachtas committee that PPE worth €64 million would not be used during the course of their shelf life, though €60m spent on ventilators that never arrived had been recovered.

These HSE audits were provided to The Journal by our colleagues at Noteworthy – our investigative platform. They obtained these through a freedom of information (FOI) request as the Noteworthy team are hoping to investigate in more detail HSE spending during the pandemic. Find out more about their project here.

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