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.

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