Damning report into €33 million HSE laboratory project finds complexity of delivery was “seriously underestimated”

A report into a €33 million HSE project found major flaws and that those involved “seriously underestimated” its complexity leading to lengthy delays in its rollout.

The MedLIS project was designed to streamline laboratory information so that healthcare providers nationwide had access to complete and up-to-date data.

However, the project has been beset by delays with an internal report finding the original project plan was unrealistic and based on a “very aggressive timeline” that was never likely to be met.

The confidential report by consultants Mazars said delivery had been based on nine key assumptions, none of which proved to be correct.

It also found that a revised project plan was optimistic and that many of the staff involved were already “highly sceptical” about it being completed ahead of newly set deadlines.

The report said: “A failure to deliver the next approved plan will seriously impact the credibility of MedLIS project, the morale of the project team, and may create negative media coverage.”

Mazars found the contract had been agreed based on an underestimate of what was involved and the significant differences in how the 43 laboratories covered operated.

It also said the national project management team – which was made up of three people – was far too small for the task.

“It may simply not have the time required to effectively manage the project on a day-to-day basis,” said the report.

Right to Know launches new Patreon account as our latest information access case is heard in the High Court

Throughout this week, Right to Know will be in the High Court for an historic case seeking access to records from the Council of State.

It’s just our latest case as we seek to enhance the right of citizens to access information about how Ireland works.

We are also launching our new Patreon account to give our supporters a new way of contributing to our work.

With many Patreon accounts, different levels of support mean different levels of access.

With Right to Know, access will remain equal whether you support us or not as we pursue our goals of transparency through requesting information, publishing documents, and making appeals.

Since our small not-for-profit was launched five years ago, we have made thousands of requests for information and made dozens and dozens of appeals.

In the past year alone, these have been some of our achievements:

  • We won a case to make a wind farm operator subject to Access to Information on the Environment requests.
  • We published inspection reports from meat processing plants during the Covid-19 pandemic. We are also fighting to have their names disclosed.
  • Our complaint to the UN’s Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee on systematic delays in dealing with AIE requests was upheld. The government has now begun a public consultation process on how to improve the operation of those regulations.
  • We were the first to make available postal code-level data on Covid-19 infections and deaths as part of our efforts to secure greater transparency around coronavirus; not long after, the HSE began publishing more granular detail.
  • Our director Gavin Sheridan won a key case forcing public bodies to give detailed reasons for why information should not be disclosed in the eNet case.
  • We won a case on publication of a report by the Data Protection Commissioner on the use of CCTV by a local authority.
  • We have made available tens of thousands of pages of records on every issue imaginable, all of which you can read on our publishing website www.thestory.ie 

We can only do this work with your help. Even if you’re not in position to sign up for our Patreon subscription, you can still help by spreading the word about Right to Know to your family and friends.

Thanks for your continuing support!

Department of Finance study on potential shock to Irish economy from over-reliance on corporation tax from small number of multinationals

A Department of Finance study said the amount of corporation tax coming from a small number of giant multinationals was becoming “increasingly pronounced”.

Early conclusions from the study warned that intangible assets owned by Irish subsidiaries – including intellectual property – could account for up to half of the “observed strength in foreign receipts”.

It suggested that each €10 billion reduction in intangible stock had the potential to reduce corporation tax take by between €170 and €190 million annually.

The research, which is still underway, also said a “stylised shock” to the sector of around 20% in “traded sector GVA [Gross Value Added]” could reduce GDP growth by 2.75 per centage points after five years relative to the baseline.

Developers of new central mental health facility warned of ‘significant additional costs’ on the project in North Dublin

The developers of a new centre to replace the Central Mental Hospital warned of significant additional costs on the project.

The new complex was projected to cost an estimated €140 million but the building contractor said the Covid-19 pandemic had caused significant delays and a major financial impact on them.

The new centre in Portrane, Co Dublin – which will be called the National Forensic Mental Health Service – was due to have been completed last year but was finally handed over to the health service earlier this month.

A letter released by the HSE shows contractor Rhatigan OHL saying the restrictions had seriously impacted productivity levels on the site leading to delays.

The letter said: “The manner in which the works are now being carried out is under completely different circumstances and/or conditions to that at the time of contracting.”

The letter said construction workers had been told in March 2020 to keep two metres distance from each other at all times.

“This immediately impacted and will continue to impact the productivity levels on the project,” they said.

The contractor said this had affected construction timelines and efficiency, and warned it was having a “major financial impact on [their] business”.

The letter – which was sent to the project architects in April – added: “We have incurred significant additional costs, which we will be seeking to recover.”

Cabinet Records on Universal Health Insurance from 2015

These are Cabinet records on Universal Health Insurance from 2015: they discuss likely costs and challenges from a project that was ultimately dropped by the Fine Gael government.

Something to keep in mind when making Freedom of Information requests in Ireland is that Cabinet records are available after five years have elapsed.

It means you can go back on key decisions from the past and get a new perspective on what actually happened.

Worth remembering as well that for Cabinet decisions on the environment – especially around climate change – you can use the AIE Regulations to try and access them more quickly.

This of course is courtesy of this Right to Know case from 2018!

Discord between Department of Defence and the Defence Forces over repatriation of two officers from peacekeeping mission in Africa

The Department of Defence were worried the government jet might develop technical problems in Africa if sent on a mission to extract two Irish army officers from a peacekeeping mission.

A major rift between the department and Defence Forces developed over plans to bring the two soldiers home with senior officials later disputing the “emergency” nature of the evacuation put forward by the military.

The Department of Defence also said the military had become fixated on using the government’s Learjet for the mission despite concerns about its reliability on a journey with up to eight separate legs.

Finalising a realistic flight plan for the jet had also “proved elusive” with stop-offs in several countries en route complicated by Covid-19 restrictions.

The two officers ended up flying back to Ireland from their UN mission in the city of Goma in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on board commercial flights after handing over their weapons to “friendly forces”.

Internal records detail significant differences of opinion between the department and the Defence Forces over the operation with a senior official saying it “proved almost impossible” to get the military to look at other options beside the Learjet.

A ministerial brief prepared by the department’s then secretary general Maurice Quinn said it had not been an “emergency evacuation” given the two officers had been able to fly home on a commercial flight.

The brief said: “The Learjet was the only option put forward by the Defence Forces for the extraction. This clearly delayed the extraction. It proved almost impossible to get engagement with [them] … on the other options that were available.”

A report into the failure of HSE’s infectious disease reporting system during the Christmas Covid-19 surge

This is a copy of an internal report from the HSE on the failure of their Computerised Infectious Disease Reporting system.

Two days before Christmas as Covid-19 cases were surging, the performance of the system began to suffer “slow speeds and disconnection”.

The report said: “In the following days, there was an exponential increase in positive laboratory results.”

It also describes how the system was fifteen years old, no longer fit-for-purpose, and needed replacement.

However, it warned that even a new system would still face challenges.

Copy of the research paper submitted by TD Marc MacSharry to the Taoiseach seeking a return to Level 2 restrictions in October

A Fianna Fáil TD sent a research paper to the Taoiseach calling for Level-2 restrictions on a day when the Department of Health announced more than 1,000 Covid-19 infections.

Marc MacSharry said in the report that the virus was not “indiscriminate” and was mostly impacting older people and those with pre-existing conditions.

He said this rendered “a forced closure for younger, otherwise healthy individuals questionable” and suggested there was little evidence to support the idea restaurants and pubs were responsible for spread of the disease.

The Department of the Taoiseach initially refused to release the report saying it was sent on a “strictly confidential” basis.

They had said release of the research would make it less likely that other TDs and Senators would send information to the Taoiseach in future.

The case was appealed by Right to Know to the Information Commissioner and the Department relented and allowed release of the paper.

Marc MacSharry said the report was sent at a “point in time” before there was awareness of Covid-19 variants and that his views had changed over Christmas.

He said: “At the time, we were not developing any sort of strategy of trying to live with it. You try to make suggestions; society is suffering – is there any way to develop a strategy?

“From the beginning, I’ve been critical of our management [of this]. I don’t want to be put anybody in danger and my views would have changed over Christmas.

“You try to make suggestions and offer solutions; they’re not always acted upon, you’re not always right.”

Stark pre-Christmas warning for Department of Health that no public health department in the country had enough staff for Covid-19 response

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly was told that not a single public health department in the country was sufficiently staffed for response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

He was also warned that the department in the North West of the country was “critically understaffed” and that Dublin’s public health team had a major gap at “clinical leadership level”.

The warnings came in a stark pre-Christmas message from the HSE warning that there was little “resilience” in operational plans for testing over the holiday period.

Separately, the HSE chief executive Paul Reid rejected Department suggestions of introducing self-referrals for Covid-19 testing in a letter from December 23.

In a letter to Minister Stephen Donnelly, he said the current system of using GPs to recommend testing was “the optimal model for referrals”.

He said introducing an alternative model would not be consistent with public health advice.

Mr Reid wrote: “It is also untested and therefore carries what we consider to be inordinate risk to the testing and tracing programme capacity, particularly given the current resurgence in infections.”