Republic of Ireland news

Irish ministers defend decision to spend millions on ventilators from China

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said the HSE had to procure ventilators from all over the world in a “war like situation”
Cate McCurry, PA

Irish Government ministers have defended a decision by the Health Service Executive (HSE) to procure millions of euro worth of ventilators, most of which were never received.

The HSE ordered the machines from China at the outbreak of Covid-19.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said the HSE had to procure ventilators from all over the world in a “war like situation”, while competing with other countries desperate to secure more.

An internal audit report criticised the governance and risk management of the process as “unsatisfactory”.

The Irish Examiner reported that the HSE made €81 million in pre-payments to 10 suppliers in China between March 20 and April 7 last year.

While the HSE ordered 2,194 ventilators, only 465 were delivered, and none of those machines were used in hospitals.

It was reported that the HSE is still owed €35.2 million in refunds.

Mr Donnelly said he welcomed the audit, adding that it was very important.

“Last year, I ordered a similar audit into PPE. There was a huge amount of money spent on PPE,” he said.

“I think, when we look back at what happened last year, we have to remember the context. They were being screamed at by the opposition, Government, by the media, by the country and by everyone to get these ventilators.”

He said it was “very easy” for academics to sit in a university and criticise the process.

“I think the reality is the HSE had to procure ventilators from all over the world, in a war-like situation, with countries scrambling to get these ventilators,” Mr Donnelly added.

“What we couldn’t have happen, and what was a very real concern, was that we would run out of ventilators and we would have patients with Covid in ICU in the most horrific situations that couldn’t be ventilated.

“We were seeing this in other countries.

“Should due process be followed? Of course it should.

“But I think we have to look at what happened in those times and remember that we were all demanding that, at any cost, get these ventilators in to protect people in the country.”

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said the mistakes had to be put in the “context” of the time.

“We were dealing with a disease that not only our country, but health experts across the world were struggling to deal with,” he said.

He admitted that mistakes had been made.

“Did we get everything right at that point? Of course we didn’t,” he told RTE radio.

He said the Government had achieved many successes during the pandemic and pointed to the success of the Covid-19 testing infrastructure and the vaccination programme run by the HSE.

“That was money they and the Department of Health and the Government used well.”

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