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Private consultants paid £2m for NHS reform work

Seanín Graham Health Correspondent s.graham@irishnews.com

PRIVATE consultants have been paid more than £2 million for their work on a health service reform project that has been criticised for its lack of results.

The Irish News has learned that KPMG and Ernst & Young were employed as part of the Transforming Your Care (TYC) programme, in addition to an extra £1m in wages paid to a small team of dedicated TYC staff since 2012.

The brainchild of the former chief executive of the Health and Social Care Board, John Compton, TYC aims to overhaul health services by increasing care in the community.

Now in the fourth year of a five-year roll-out, politicians and trade unions have in recent weeks rounded on its failure to deliver on the ground.

Janice Smyth, director of the Royal College of Nursing, said while she supported the ideals behind TYC, she felt it hadn't delivered on addressing "social inequalities and the needs of an ageing population".

Concerns have also been raised over why the board employed costly external consultants when it has more than 550 staff members whose remit is to assess the public's healthcare needs.

The money has been spent during one of the most difficult cost-cutting periods in the NHS and was approved by the Board, the Department of Health and former health minister Edwin Poots.

The consultants' most recent work was a TYC 'workshop' at Mossley Mill in Newtownabbey in September, attended by eight management consultants and 80 senior health service figures.

Services delivered at the workshop cost the taxpayer almost £230,000 and included "health analytics and modelling of future financial and demand pressures... benchmarking of international evidence and best practice, analysis of key reform initiatives, clinical and senior leader engagement, and the development of a longitudinal study for reablement", according to a board spokeswoman.

In an interview with The Irish News last week, health minister Jim Wells defended the spend, insisting that permanent staff cannot take on additional roles.

"You have to bring in external expertise - you cannot keep someone sitting around in case you need them," he said.

"If consultants actually help you to deliver radical change, then it can be money well spent."

But the DUP minister admitted the use of external consultants was expensive and their role would be "examined very carefully in the future" due to the economic climate.

The HSCB also defended the use of the private firms, stating they had "extensive experience" of "complex health and social care transformation".

"They have challenged us to be as innovative and as progressive as we can possibly be in how we face the challenges of the future. In our view, having the right healthcare expertise and specialists has been vital to getting the implementation of change right," a spokesman said.

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