The South Australian opposition has backed its pre-election promise of a review into eHealth programs, making a series of explosive and damaging allegations about loose procurement, mismanagement and secrecy within the SA Government’s largest organisation.
Shadow health minister Rob Lucas said he has been the recipient of an “overwhelming” number of reports from concerned whistleblowers that still work within the health department and its IT industry partners.
The first of his claims is that the department took a lax approach to procurement probity.
Late last year, Lucas told parliament an employee of a major US computing vendor was hired by SA Health on a three month maternity leave contract. He alleged the contractor managed a periodic desktop refresh tender process and purchased 30,000 devices off the state’s client computing and server equipment panel. The vendor in question was one of the major bidders for the deal.
“The concern that has been raised, not just with me but also with very senior managers in SA Health, is that this particular person will have had access to very sensitive competitor pricing information within SA Health, as well as other commercially sensitive information about the structure and nature of tenders from competitor companies,” Lucas warned.
“When that person returns to their particular company, they will return armed with that information which obviously places them in a very advantageous position.”
According to the MP’s sources, concerns were raised about this perceived conflict of interest by other staff members, but the concerns were subsequently ignored.
Lucas received another complaint about the tender process behind SA Health’s $30 million Enterprise System for Medical Imaging (ESMI), which alleged an inappropriately close relationship between a senior official involved in the procurement and one of the tendering companies.
He detailed to parliament a number of text messages sent by the official, alerting a friend that their bid was “not on the radar” of the evaluating panel, suggesting that they would have to lift their performance.
Again, he claimed, there is no evidence that complaints made to the relevant probity director have been followed-up.
Lucas believes his sources are “looking for a voice in terms of expressing their concerns”.
“They have raised the issues within SA Health, in some cases for nearly two years, only to run into a brick wall or no response from this minister or and previous ministers and senior executives within SA Health.
“When all else is lot, some of these people have taken the brave step of raising the issues with members of parliament... to try to have their concerns listened to,” he said.
Lucas has not named any of the sources or people whose behaviour he claims to be concerned about.
When asked if he would apologise to SA Health and health minister Jack Snelling if a review showed the claims to be unsubstantiated, he told iTnews that he is “confident in the information” he has been provided with. He added that he will be “the first to concede that in this sort of field where there can be differing points of view on the same case”.
“But I have had 30 years in parliament, 11 of those as a minister. I think this sort of experience gives you some level of expertise in assessing these sorts of claims,” he argued.
Lucas said that the government has had “four to five months” to deny his claims, but has yet to respond to the allegations.
Snelling’s office would not confirm or deny iTnews' request for confirmation.
A spokesman for the Minister described Lucas as being “well known for his many anonymous sources telling him things anonymously, and is also equally well-known for criticising every investment this government makes in health, including in ICT projects.”
The spokesman acknowledged that the government’s commitment to the eHealth space “doesn’t mean that every investment comes without problems”, but claimed that “if the Liberal Party had their way, very little of these important ICT projects would ever get off the ground and South Australia would lag behind the rest of the states when it comes to Health IT systems.”
Snelling’s office would not comment on allegations - again made by the Opposition - that threats were made to sue and counter sue between SA Health and its major eHealth contractor Allscripts over performance issues and a failure to meet deadlines on the $422 million Electronic Patient Administration System (EPAS) rollout.
In October 2013, Snelling responded to questions in parliament by admitting “there have been some discussion with Allscripts”.
“There certainly were issues with the billing module for the Allscripts program, which resulted in delays to the rollout,” he said. “I will double check but I do not think that those discussion have got to the stage where any legal claims have been made by either party.”
Allscripts has been contacted for comment, but has not responded.
Lucas claimed “the record of this government taking on big multinational corporations, companies or consortia in terms of legal disputes has not been an encouraging one,” but equally refused to rule out the possibility of continuing a legal dispute if it is underway.
“I’ll have to have a look at what the legal advice is, and make a judgement call based on that,” he told iTnews.
South Australian voters go to the polls this Saturday, with Lucas’ Liberal Party the favourite to win with a 54-46 lead on a two-party preferred basis, according to Newspoll.