Department of Health spends €700k on consultants, including €96k to research alcohol labels

The Department of Health has spent almost €100,000 researching alcohol labels.

Focus groups gave their opinion on sample new alcohol labels which are being developed as part of the Public Health Alcohol Bill.

Nearly €96,000 was paid to Amárach Research to develop trial alcohol labels and test them through focus groups.

The Irish Examiner's Elaine Loughlin reports the research was part of a €700,000 spend by the department involving the use of external consultants last year.

Fianna Fáil has described the spend as "shocking" and "a waste of money".

They claim the work could have been done within the department, which paid a total of €704,804 to outside organisations in 2016.

Included in this was was a €55,081 bill to Milliman for actuarial, accounting, insurance, and economic advice services; a further €44,785 was paid to Prospectus Consultants for what was described as “trauma policy communications”, while Alpha Healthcare received €46,806 for undertaking two separate projects.

A total of €14,145 was paid to KPMG for a “consultation exercise on performance dialogue with and performance management of the HSE”.

The expenditure was revealed in response to a parliamentary question put down by Fianna Fáil TD for Cork North West, Michael Moynihan.

Michael Moynihan.

Mr Moynihan said that while there are sometimes valid reasons for engaging external consultants to provide specialist advice, he is concerned by the level of spending by the Department of Health on such reports and external consultants.

“Nearly three quarters of a million euro is a lot of money to be spending on external reports when there are disgraceful waiting lists for basic diagnostic procedures and treatments. I find it hard to understand how most of these reports could not have been undertaken by staff members in the Department of Health or in the HSE.

“The HSE is the largest state agency and has, among its ranks, some of the most educated, experienced, and resourceful professionals in the healthcare sector,” he said.l

The country’s third-level institutions were also engaged in a number of external consultation projects.

DCU was employed to carry out three separate research projects which totalled more than €40,000.

UCC also conducted three separate consultation projects totalling €19,986, while UCD was paid €11,119 to work on a policy paper on the future role of advanced and specialist nursing and midwifery practice.

UCC, UCD, and NUIG were also paid €24,533 to work together to carry out a literature review and stakeholder evaluation to “inform a policy on future community nursing and midwifery, public health nursing, and related support grades”.

However, by far the largest amount was paid to NUIG which received €111,751 for the commission, development, and quality assurance of four national clinical guidelines.

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: “It is the policy of the Department of Health only to engage the services of external consultants where it is felt to be appropriate and cost-effective, taking account of Government decisions and policy including procurement protocols on the matter.”

This article first appeared in today's Irish Examiner.

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