Unreleased health board report ‘seems to suggest corporate financial misreporting fraud’, claims Plaid Cymru leader
Unreleased health board report ‘seems to suggest corporate financial misreporting fraud’, the leader of Plaid Cymru has claimed.
Details of an unreleased report into Betsi Cadwaladr Health Board were shared by Adam Price MS in the Senedd on Tuesday (9 May).
Mr Price 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”.
Amid growing speculation it could be one of, if not the last appearance as leader of Plaid Cymru at FMQs, Adam Price MS revealed elements of the currently private report during First Minister Questions, the full exchange is below.
Adam Price MS opened by asking, “…at the Public Accounts and Public Administration Committee, two former independent members of the Betsi Cadwaladr board raised their concerns at the news that NHS Counter Fraud Service Wales had discontinued their investigation into financial irregularities at the board, deciding that no further action would be taken.
“The original Ernst & Young report that triggered this investigation concluded that BCUHB financial accounts were deliberately falsified, with millions of pounds of expenditure posted wrongly in 2021-22 in order to avoid losing those funds at year end.
“Now, the report says: ‘We have found that 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.’
“Since this, by definition almost, seems to suggest corporate financial misreporting fraud, why is the NHS’s own fraud investigation team concluding that no further action should be taken?”
The First Minister replied: “Well, Llywydd, the leader of Plaid Cymru has the advantage over me, because I’ve not seen the report.
“I’m very surprised indeed that he is able to quote from it this afternoon, given that the board has not published the report either.
“So, any insights that he has had into the text of the report must have come to him in ways that have certainly not been available to me or to any other Member.
“It’s not for me to explain why NHS counter-fraud have come to the conclusions that they have; they’re an entirely independent organisation. The report was sent to them.
“My understanding is that they investigated it. Their conclusion is that there were no criminal charges that needed to be brought. That’s the extent of their involvement. The threshold they have to set is whether criminal behaviour has taken place.
“That does not mean that there are not things arising from the report that the board itself will need to pursue, and my understanding is that disciplinary procedures have been instigated by the health board and that actions flowing from the report are still very possible.”
Adam Price MS responded saying: “The report was sent to the Government; you have a copy of the report from 25 January this year. Are you saying that Ministers have not seen that report?
“Maybe the First Minister could respond as to whether Ministers have seen that report, because it raises some serious matters.
“The report does document financial misreporting fraud in relation to a named service provider, involving a seven-figure sum, being deliberately attributed to the wrong financial year.
“The report says, according to the information that I have, ‘in order to recognise the company entry in the wrong financial year, a purchase order was produced on 31 March 2022 with incorrect details, which were intentionally designed so that it would not be sent to the company.
“The purchase order was drafted by a member of the separate NHS procurement services team, which is outside of Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board.’ Now, the NHS procurement services team and NHS Counter Fraud Service Wales are both divisions of NHS Wales Shared Services Partnership.
“So, can the First Minister say how this conflict of interest would have been managed? And isn’t the suggestion of direct involvement by the NHS’s central procurement team in false representation a source of serious concern?”
The First Minster reiterated that he had not seen the report: “Well, Llywydd, let me deal with the first point first. I have not seen the report and there is a good reason for that.
“When the report was submitted to the Welsh Government, there were already accusations in circulation—they were repeated again at the PAPAC meeting last week—that the report would implicate Welsh Government Ministers or civil servants in the improprieties that it had discovered.
“For that reason, the report was not shared with anybody who could potentially have been named in that report. Instead, it went directly to the head of the ethics and propriety section of the Welsh Government, who could not possibly have been implicated in anything that the report said.”
“Now, I am very pleased to be able to tell Members, and to correct any misapprehensions that may have existed as a result of last week’s PAPAC hearings, that the report is not, in fact, critical in any way of Welsh Government Ministers or civil servants.
“The report specifically confirms that it did not find any evidence or suggestion of such complicity. That established, the report has now been seen by the Minister concerned.
“I say this very seriously to the leader of Plaid Cymru, the reason that the report cannot be published at this time is that it would inevitably, given the small number of people involved, lead to identification of individuals who, as I’ve already described, are now potentially subject to disciplinary procedures.
“It would be utterly unfair to them, in any response that they would wish to make, to have that report circulated. I do hope that nothing that the leader of Plaid Cymru has said this afternoon, quoting from a report that he should not have had access to see, will now prejudice actions that the board might wish to take against any individuals.”
Adam Price MS made a final point, stating: “I’ve been very careful not to name any individuals in anything that I have said. I am asking legitimate questions. I’ve not made any allegations in relation to the Welsh Government Ministers or civil servants.
“I am simply raising legitimate questions that have been raised as well in the PAPAC committee.
“The way, of course, that we can get some clarity about this is we can have some understanding about the difference between what is in the EY report and the decision that NHS Counter Fraud Service Wales has come to.
“Can I ask, finally, there are some named companies—? There is a named company in the EY report, which I won’t give the details of, but the suggestion in the report is that they—that company—altered a proposal document and therefore misled Audit Wales in the process.
“Can we have an assurance that that company, as a result of those suggestions, if those suggestions have been found to be correct, that they are no longer an approved supplier across the NHS?”
The First Minster replied, “Well, first of all, Llywydd, to repeat what I said: if the Member has concerns about the decision reached by NHS Counter Fraud Service Wales, he must take up those concerns with them.
“I am not responsible for them, nor should I be, and I cannot be expected to answer questions about how or why they came to their conclusion. They do that entirely independently and entirely of their own volition.
“As to a company that may or may not be involved in the report, the difficulty with the line of questioning that the leader of Plaid Cymru has pursued this afternoon is that, while he says he has not named individuals and will not name the company, I’m afraid, because there is a limited number of individuals and companies who could be in that position, it runs the risk of casting a doubt on those individuals, or those companies before they themselves have had a chance to respond to any of the content of that report.
“I hope that, once those disciplinary procedures and any other matters in the report have been properly investigated, the report will be available to Members to read. But it shouldn’t be available before people who may have things to answer have had their opportunity to do that properly. “ Spotted something? Got a story? Send a Facebook Message | A direct message on Twitter | Email: News@Deeside.com