Health Minister reveals suspension of individuals named in secret Betsi Cadwaladr finance report
Wales’ Health Minister has revealed that some people named in a secret report on financial issues at Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board have been suspended.
Details of the report on the North Wales health board were shared by outgoing Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price in the Senedd earlier this month.
He said it “seems to suggest corporate financial misreporting fraud” and read out a section stating “costs were posted to the incorrect financial year, and that the statements were deliberate and the misstatements were not limited to a single individual or team”.
The report by Ernst and Young is not yet public, and the Welsh Government has refused a Freedom of Information request for it to be released.
North Wales Police said on Monday it would make an “assessment” on concerns raised over financial issues at the health board.
Health Minister Eluned Morgan has now said that her understanding is that “key individuals” named in the report have been suspended.
How many people that involves is unclear as the report appears to have four pages of named individuals and job titles.
The detail emerged in a Senedd session where Clwyd West MS Darren Millar questioned the Health Minister on the report.
The Conservative MS said: “Minister, people across North Wales are pretty angry at the moment about what is happening in the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board.
“I was given an anonymous copy of the Ernst & Young forensic report of accounting issues at the board, and I have to say it is absolutely damning.
“Its findings include false accounting and the manipulation of documents that amount to fraud. These were done in the knowledge of senior members of staff at the health board, including the chief executive and the finance director.
“The junior staff who pushed back against these appalling practices were overruled by their superiors and there, then, were deliberate efforts to hide those actions from Audit Wales and the forensic investigators from Ernst & Young. It absolutely stinks.
“The report still isn’t in the public domain—it should be published—in spite of the significant public interest in these issues.
“I want to know what action the Welsh Government is now taking to ensure that all those responsible for the behaviour identified in that report are going to be held accountable for their actions.”
Ms Morgan replied: “I was one of the few people who did have an early access to the report, and I’ve got to agree that it did make extremely sobering reading, which absolutely needs to be acted upon.
“As has been said in this chamber on a number of occasions, this was not our report, and so I can’t ask for it to be published.
“It was a report that was commissioned by the health board, and they have to determine what they’re going to do.
“I have spoken to both the interim chief executive and the chair of the health board about the action that will be undertaken as a result of this report, and they have both reassured me that the health board is progressing the management of the issues that are raised in the EY report in line with their existing procedures and policies.
“My concern throughout has been that I don’t want to do anything that will compromise or prejudice in any way the ability of the board to pursue the actions that they should and need to do.”
Unimpressed with the reply, Millar said: “Minister, it’s been four months since that report was published. I cannot fathom why, in that period of four months, those individuals who were responsible for these actions have not been dismissed from that health board.
“Not only are these unprofessional practices for those who are registered as chartered accountants and with other professional bodies, but it actually goes beyond the health board itself.
“We know, for example, that documentation to obtain goods and services was falsified in order to award a contract of nearly £1.8 million to a company, Lightfoot Solutions, and that company, Lightfoot Solutions, colluded in the altering of documentation in order to get that award.
“We know that a purchase order was drafted that shouldn’t have been drafted, deliberately designed to fail in order to avoid proper scrutiny, by the head of procurement services at NHS Wales Shared Services Partnership.
“Now, I don’t know whether these individuals are still in post or under investigation, but this is not just about Betsi; this is about the culture in the wider NHS.
“I want to know what action is now being taken to make sure that Lightfoot Solutions, this company that has colluded, which has also had contracts awarded to it in other parts of Wales, not just the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board.
“What is being done to make sure that we never engage with that organisation again? What is being done in terms of the NHS Wales Shared Services Partnership role in this sort of behaviour? It’s wider than just Betsi, minister.”
The Health Minister then confirmed some suspensions. She said: “My understanding is that the key individuals named in this report have been suspended, and, clearly, they have legal employment rights.
“The key thing for me is that we’ve got to follow the right process so that any system that needs to be followed is not undermined.
“I can assure you that, from the report, the Welsh Government was exonerated, that there wasn’t any suggestion that Welsh Government was in any way implicated in any of this.
“But I have asked my director general to make sure that we look at the report to see what, if any, action we need to take as a Government if there are any broader implications for us as a government.”
Mr Millar then echoed wider calls for a police investigation where necessary.
Ms Morgan said “extensive investigations” by the NHS counter-fraud office found the matters did not need to be followed up by police in terms of criminal action.
Plaid Cymru’s Rhun ap Iorwerth said: “A former independent member of the board explaining that he was intimately involved in that EY investigation has now called for a police investigation, saying he believes there is clear and incontrovertible evidence that a number of crimes were carried out.
“It’s a powerful and damning indictment of the situation regarding Betsi Cadwaladr. I welcome the statement from North Wales Police saying they’re assessing the situation. I, too, call on them to initiate a full investigation.”
The Health Minister pointed that the police will decide if they need to take any action.
Ms Morgan said: “The police will determine if a criminal investigation is required, and they’ve already said that they’re looking at this and it’s not up to me to tell the police whether a criminal investigation is required; that is something that they will need to determine themselves.
“The counter-fraud office is made up of a team of experienced investigators, and they have a lot of experience in looking at serious, complex, large-scale crime cases, and they do give a specialist independent investigation resource to health boards.
“They have come to a conclusion. If the police want to look at it and come to a different conclusion, then obviously that will be a matter for them.”
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