ICAC condemns health system as wide open to corruption
THE crisis-plagued SA Health agency is so troubled, patients are potentially in danger and corrupt public servants are escaping punishment, the anticorruption watchdog warns.
In a scathing report into the state’s $6 billion health system, tabled yesterday in State Parliament, Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Bruce Lander QC condemned the department’s “inappropriate integrity culture” that was “ripe for exploitation”.
The allegations included highly-paid specialists falsely claiming against taxpayers or signing off their own timesheets, public funds being held in private bank accounts, undeclared conflicts of interests, poor records and blundering of clinical trials.
Despite yesterday telling MPs he had only “started reading” ICAC’s 66-page report, Health Minister Stephen Wade rejected calls for an independent public inquiry or a royal commission, as well as any extra funding for Mr Lander to conduct an investigation. Flanked at the Royal Adelaide Hospital by nine of the 10 Local Health Network bosses – but not SA Health chief executive Chris McGowan – Mr Wade announced a public service-led “taskforce”.
While Mr Lander’s report criticised some doctors’ conduct, Mr Wade said reforms would be “fundamentally driven by clinicians, not lawyers”.
In October, Mr Lander publicly outlined concerns SA Health was “riddled with maladministration” and “very likely” corruption amid a backdrop of growing public concern about ongoing drama and allegations within SA Health.
The Advertiser later revealed Mr Lander was denied $2 million in August last year to investigate the state’s largest government agency.
Yesterday his report, titled Troubling Ambiguity: Governance in SA Health, laid bare “several areas of concern” that Mr Lander said contributed to risks of corruption, misconduct and maladministration – irregular public spending or substantial mismanagement.
“While SA Health does not have appropriate governance and administrative arrangements, (it) cannot be confident that the full level of clinical care is being delivered,” he wrote. “I am concerned that the governance and administrative arrangements in SA Health are ripe for exploitation by corrupt employees.”
These included “troubling ambiguity” in systems, public servants “wanting in integrity”, bureaucrats’ personal gain “preferred at the expense of the public interest”, and managers facilitating, tolerating, and even condoning, poor practices as well as bullying.
While not detailing any specific recommendations and admitting his concerns were not “exhaustive”, he also criticised doctors’ being able to build lucrative private practices while on the taxpayer payroll, fears of “widespread” rorting and a failure to manage conflicts of interest or public tenders.
The report, handed to ministers last week, found SA Health managed more than a third of the Government’s $5.13 billion tender spending using at least 18,000 suppliers.
A public-sector survey found health workers experienced more alleged corruption or inappropriate conduct than other government employees.
“These matters should be a concern to all members of the community because SA Health delivers a critical service on which … its most vulnerable depend,” he wrote.
His review, he said, came after a corruption investigation into an unnamed SA Health public servant “had become so compromised by the maladministration within the agency, that there was no longer any possibility of a successful criminal prosecution”.
“This was not the first time this had happened,” he wrote.
As revealed by The Advertiser, the ICAC and its Office for Public Integrity received more than 1000 SA Health complaints – almost a fifth of all public sector complaints.
Dr McGowan, who is under investigation over his conduct, refused to comment last night.