A lack of focus
A lack of focus
The recent brouhaha about the resignation of Katrina Percy and her immediate re-instatement in a different role at Southern Health NHS Trust has completely overshadowed a number of worrying relationships. On the 26th July 2016 the BBC reported that the then Chief Executive, Katrina Percy, was involved in potential conflicts of interest with associates receiving favourable procurement treatment. The BBC article mentions that small procurement contracts were not adequately controlled and the values of these escalated out of control.
Whilst the failure to identify clinical failings resulting in the deaths of patients is an appalling situation for any NHS Trust, it will have undoubtedly been the culmination of many different factors. There will have been collective responsibility throughout the clinical management structure. Eventually, the “buck” stopped with the Chief Executive and the rest is, as they say, history.
The declaration of conflicts of interest specifically any relationships with suppliers is an entirely different matter and the responsibility to declare clearly rests with the employee. Public sector procurement aims to ensure that the tax payer gets value for money and that the process is impartial and in-line with current UK and EU regulations. How Brexit will affect the requirement to advertise contracts over a certain value remains to be seen. A fair and open procurement process can easily be circumvented with the active participation of an insider. For example, a person with a budget can price a piece of work to fall below an internal financial limit and then increase the project as separate discrete jobs, each of which fly below the radar. Recommending work to a life partner or family member without declaring an interest is another way of circumventing controls. However, there is a grey area between having worked with someone in the past and having a “relationship” which could be described as collusive or a conflict of interest.
Using independent self-employed consultants can add a further risk to maintaining robust controls as they may not consider themselves as employees bound by standard terms of employment contract. I have in the past seen a case where a fixed term consultant working in an accounting position was paid a commission by his previous employer whenever he successfully recommended them for a new contract.
Many organisations maintain registers of outside interests, but few actively seek to verify and match this source of data with external open sources such as Companies House to identify possible relationships.
Furthermore, this also applies to declaring any hospitality which may have been received. All too often employees and managers pay scant attention to this process, and the recorded information is hopelessly out of date. If employees do declare gift and hospitality they may be tempted to declare the minimum value of the gift £25-£50, depending on policy, even if the hospitality exceeded this amount. Equally, they may consider that they had to attend a function as part of their job and therefore they received no personal benefit. The Pharmaceutical industry has in the past organised conferences and educational seminars to launch new drugs. A preferred method of attracting doctors and clinicians to such events is to hold a three-day conference for example on a Nile boat cruise or in exotic locations with lectures on day one, and networking and break-out sessions for the remainder of the event. I appreciate that this custom and practice may have changed but, call me cynical, this looks like a personal benefit to me.
Validating and investigating potential conflicts of interest and ensuring effective compliance can, with the right mind-set and software tools, be easily accomplished. Here at Haymarket we do this as part of our advanced investigative data analytics and our due diligence assignments. We constantly “think outside the box” and compare internal and external data from open data sources and social media to uncover hitherto undeclared relationships. If in doubt verify, and then verify again.
Further details of Haymarket’s full range of counter fraud services and strategies may be found on our website.