Publication of HSE letters on testing target show serious failings – Kelly

14 May 2020

Following the publication of a series of letters between senior officials in the Department of Health and the HSE regarding governance issues, Labour Party Leader, Alan Kelly TD, said the contents show serious failings of governance and accountability, and raises questions about how the Covid-19 testing targets were arrived at.

Deputy Kelly said:

“Having sought these letters for near weeks I welcome that the Minister for Health has now finally published the series of communications between the HSE, the Department of Health and the Minister for Health, but it should not have taken three weeks of pressure in the Dáil to force the Government to release them.

“These are the letters I revealed in the Dail existed and asked the Taoiseach to publish weeks ago. The demonstrate the obvious tensions between NPHET and in also the Chief Medical Officer and the HSE. In particular the decision on April 17th to announce the capacity to test 15,000 people a day or a 100,000 a week which the HSE clearly knew they couldn’t deliver and had taken the Government through a plan on what they could and would do.

“What the letters show is that denials by the Government and NPHET of tensions over governance, and the testing target that was publicly set on Friday 17th April, were false.

“The letters show that as early as 23 March concerns had been raised by the Board of the HSE about statutory governance as documented in a letter from Paul Reid to the Secretary General of the Department of Health.

“Letters from 19th April and 20th April clearly show that plans and procedures to deliver 100,000 tests a week were not in place when it was first announced by NPHET on 17th April, and that the position on testing and tracing capacity were to be confirmed by Friday 24th April.

“We still don’t know why the testing target was made public when it was obvious a pathway was still to be put in place, and that the HSE had made clear it would not be able to get to that.

“Why did the Taoiseach, Minister for Health and CMO continuously deny that such tensions existed when they obviously did. There is now firm evidence of NPHET announcing policy without consulting key stakeholders, the most obvious and fundamental of all being the HSE.

“I am concerned that we will face the same issue with wider stakeholders now that NPHET advice has to be balanced against non-COVID mortality and economic and social reopening of the country.

“Instead what we have had is confusion and now only a month later will the target finally be met. This raises serious concerns about governance and the implementation of decisions in the midst of a global pandemic.

“What happened instead was a false commitment was made public that our health service would not be able to meet. We still don’t know why this happened, but I am concerned that this could happen again.

“Finally, Minister Harris’ letter on 11th May interestingly came after I sought these letters and seems designed to smooth over the many issues raised by the Chair of the HSE Board, Ciarán Devane on 8 April (a month earlier) in his six-page letter.

“It should not have taken constant needling from myself on the floor of the Dáil for four weeks for these concerns to be published. We need to be mindful now of how NPHET conduced themselves in their exchanges, or lack there of,  with the HSE, in light of changes that are coming down the tracks and further decisions that will need to be made.”

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