Dáil debates

Thursday, 29 June 2006

Adjournment Debate.

Consultancy Contracts.

8:00 pm

Jim Glennon (Dublin North, Fianna Fail)
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I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for allowing me to raise this important issue on the Adjournment and thank the Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, Deputy Brian Lenihan, for agreeing to respond, having survived the previous few minutes.

This issue unfortunately arises from the nursing homes refund scheme. I say "unfortunately" because the scheme has had an unfortunate history. I have no wish to add to that other than to say that certain matters have been brought to my attention regarding the administration of that scheme and the award of contracts in that regard which are worthy of pursuit and investigation. We are aware that our health system is in no way perfect, since that can be true of no country. Equally, every Member is aware anecdotally of some difficulties on the procurement side, whether it be of a single can of paint by the lowest store man to the awarding of contracts. I do not want to deal with the PPARS system whose very mention sends something of a shudder down everyone's spine.

If the problems in health service procurement were resolved, even to a significant degree, we would have done a major service to the health system and gone a long way towards resolving the problems. My interest in this issue is on behalf of an unsuccessful party to the tender process, an operator in my constituency where jobs are at issue, as well as on behalf of some very concerned senior staff members of the Health Service Executive and the taxpayer.

We have a duty to pursue genuine issues, and in that regard, as the tendering process is now complete and the cooling-off period has expired, we should, with complete transparency, investigate the issues arising, especially those to which I referred in my request for this Adjournment debate. We must have the names of the tendering companies, their ranking by price, the HSE's policy on outsourcing work relevant to the project, particularly to the Indian subcontinent, and the advice given to tenderers relevant to such outsourcing at inception and conclusion of the tender process. Was the lowest tender accepted, and if not, why not?

I assure the House that this is by no means a witch hunt but an entirely legitimate and justified inquiry whose purpose is to ensure that fairness and equity prevailed in the process at all times. I look forward to a comprehensive response from the Minister and firmly take the view that anything less will only give rise to further questions and serve no one, least of all the clients due to benefit from the running of the scheme.

Photo of Brian Lenihan JnrBrian Lenihan Jnr (Dublin West, Fianna Fail)
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I am replying on behalf of the Tánaiste and Minister for Health, Deputy Harney. I thank Deputy Glennon for raising the matter. The Health (Repayments Scheme) Act 2006 was signed by the President on 23 June and provides a clear legal framework for a scheme to repay recoverable health charges for publicly funded long-term care.

The Health Service Executive has responsibility for administering the repayment scheme for recoverable health charges, including the recruitment of an outside company to assist in its management. Owing to the nature, volume and complexity of the repayments involved, it was decided, in line with a Government decision, to appoint an outside company with appropriate knowledge and experience of dealing with mass repayments. A procurement team was established within the HSE and a tendering process was advertised in the EU Journal and the Irish national newspapers for the selection of such a company.

The HSE has advised me that the following seven companies or consortia tendered for the repayment scheme: Capita; Northgate HR Information Solutions; Fexco Outsourcings Solutions and Mentec; Elision Group; SWS Business Process Outsourcing Limited; Care Charges Refund Scheme Limited; and KPMG McCann Fitzgerald.

Following consideration of the tenders, the HSE has selected a service provider, the consortium comprising KPMG Accounting Group and McCann Fitzgerald Solicitors, to manage the repayment scheme within the agreed parameters. The cost will be based on the total number of repayments but has been capped at €15 million, excluding VAT. The HSE is satisfied that the successful consortium met the necessary criteria and is confident of its ability to deliver all aspects of the scheme and that the consortium will plan, manage and execute the scheme in accordance with international best practice.

The tendering companies were not ranked by price alone, as the award criteria required the contract to be awarded to the most economically advantageous tender while also having regard to the criteria outlined in the advertisement placed in the EU Journal. The criteria used for the selection of the company were those outlined in the advertisement referred to above, and those related to cost, technical capacity, legal expertise and economic and financial capacity.

The HSE's policy on outsourcing is to comply with all EU procurement and trade law. The HSE has indicated that all EU guidelines and directives have been complied with in awarding the contract. It is understood from the HSE that a very small proportion, approximately 5%, of the work to be undertaken by the company will be outsourced outside the EU. That work is of a data entry nature and will not involve the operation of help lines, the provision of information or any related matters, all of which will be performed within the State. The HSE has worked directly with the Data Protection Commissioner to ensure that all necessary measures are in place to protect the confidentiality of information.

The HSE has stated that it did not offer any advice to the companies on whether to outsource elements of the repayment process. The HSE has not released the details of the cost of the other tenders as the selection process was not based on cost alone, and those costs are also commercially sensitive. The company selected to administer the repayment scheme was not the lowest tender received, but the preferred company had the highest combined score when the award criteria outlined above were considered.

The company has already commenced its preparatory work and intends to launch the scheme to the public in the middle of July. It will be initiated by a comprehensive public awareness campaign to ensure that anyone entitled can easily apply for repayment.