An inquiry into spiralling costs for the national children’s hospital will have the ability to blame individuals, the Government has announced after a forced U-turn on terms for the probe.
Mounting questions over the hospital overspend come at a difficult time for the Government, with more health service strikes planned this week as nurses and GPs escalate industrial action.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has now confirmed that, after talks with Health Minister Simon Harris, the review of the hospital overspend by consultants PwC will be changed.
“We’ve looked at the terms of reference, and they will be revised to enable PwC to find individuals accountable or identify individuals who made particular mistakes if that is what they find,” he said.
“After speaking with the minister for health, we’re making that revision to enable the investigation to find individuals responsible if they are able to do that.”
The probe had been asked to look at the root causes of the mounting costs — but without ascribing blame to individuals.
Amid the controversy, the chair of the National Paediatric Hospital Development Board resigned over the weekend citing concerns about reputational damage to the project.
Tom Costello’s resignation came after Mr Harris last week flagged that there would be personnel changes.
Over the weekend, Mr Varadkar tried to deflate criticism about the project. He said the final cost was more likely to be €1.4bn or €1.5bn as opposed to suggestions of nearly €2bn and would be “an asset for the country for 100, maybe 200 years”.
While accepting there was public anger over it, he said many of the cost increases were “unavoidable” and could be related to construction inflation.
He also confirmed that a list of projects delayed in order for funds to be redirected for the St James’ Hospital site build will be released next week.
Nonetheless, the move to blame individuals could run into problems, as flagged by Environment Minister Richard Bruton yesterday.
“If you have a review that has culpability, you will immediately see, as we have seen in the tribunals, everyone comes in with a team of barristers,” he said.
A statement on behalf of the health minister confirmed the revised terms.
“As indicated by the Taoiseach, the terms of reference will be examined and revised so that PwC is not precluded from finding individuals accountable. The Taoiseach and the minister have considered it and it was agreed to make revisions to the terms to ensure that the investigation is as robust as possible.”
However, a spokeswoman later said the revised terms would be agreed with health officials later today. The report will also be completed by the end of March.
The controversy will rumble on this week, with Mr Harris set to face questions in the Dáil tomorrow and from the Oireachtas Health Committee again on Wednesday.
Health committee vice chairman Alan Kelly said there were questions to answer about excuses why a hospital board member had not raised the alarm with the Government on the huge costs. While the Department of Public Expenditure said the individual was there solely in a “personal capacity”, a 2010 protocol cited by Mr Kelly shows members must report concerns.
“This protocol either proves there wasn’t Chinese walls or the timelines don’t add up,” said Mr Kelly.
Amid the widening criticism, Fianna Fáil’s Michael McGrath insisted there needed to be political accountability.
“The whole governance arrangements in place are a bureaucratic nightmare,” he said. “When everyone is responsible, no one is responsible.”
Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar has ruled out blocking pay rises for nurses.