- In short: An independent audit of the Royal Hobart Hospital’s $11m hyperbaric unit uncovers inconsistencies in processes that exposed it to “a risk of reputational and financial loss”
- What’s next? The health department says no-one was sanctioned but deficiencies in payroll systems will be addressed by a new software system
An independent consultant called in to investigate allegations that equipment was taken from the Royal Hobart Hospital’s state-of-the-art hyperbaric unit has raised concerns about how the unit kept track of assets.
The ABC can reveal consultancy firm Deloitte was brought in by Tasmania’s health department in 2021, after allegations were raised about the unit’s processes.
Documents acquired under right-to-information laws revealed there was an audit — which made eight recommendations to improve the unit’s asset management, procurement and leave policies — but they do not specifically outline the allegations that prompted it.
The health department confirmed the unit’s asset management policies and processes were included in the audit due to concerns portable equipment had been removed from the unit, but declined to provide further detail.
The diving and hyperbaric medicine unit opened in the hospital’s K-Block in 2020, with the health department describing it as a “state-of-the-art” unit designed by Australian experts.
It can provide hyperbaric oxygen therapy to divers with decompression illnesses known as “the bends”, as well as treat a range of non-diving conditions such as radiation injuries, diabetic wounds, gangrene and sensorineural hearing loss.
Up to 10 patients can be treated with hyperbaric oxygen at the same time, with a dedicated treatment room for intensive care unit patients who require oxygen treatment.
Equipment purchase process not followed
The Deloitte report found there was no record kept of “portable assets” — such as regulators — which were valued at less than $10,000, including some items that could be removed from and used outside the hyperbaric unit.
It found the unit was exposed to “a risk of reputational and financial loss” unless it fixed its record system and safeguarded the “substantial number of portable assets” it housed.
The report also found some purchases of equipment and services didn’t follow the Health Department’s preferred supplier list, and there was a lack of record keeping about a decision to spend just over $50,000 on buying and installing a patient monitoring system.
“Under the Royal Hobart Hospital procurement policies, three quotes should have been obtained to support the purchase of this asset or justification as to why a direct procurement was necessary,” the report said.
Deloitte found the purchase was “ultimately justified” because the supplier selected was the only available option.
The Deloitte assessment also uncovered inconsistencies in employee leave records, including undated forms, but was ultimately unable to determine whether all leave forms were properly processed.
Payroll system update
The Health Department says deficiencies in its current human resources and payroll systems will be addressed by a new software system.
The department says no one was sanctioned, and it did not refer the matter to police or other investigative bodies.
“In the interests of confidentiality, we are unable to comment further, however we are satisfied that this matter has been handled appropriately,” the department said.
The ABC obtained the information after a year-long attempt to get hold of the 19-page draft PowerPoint report prepared by Deloitte.
‘Kitchen sink’ approach to stifle information
After initially refusing to provide the information under right-to-information laws, the Health Department rejected the ABC’s internal review application on the basis that it was subject to copyright — a novel approach, according to right-to-information expert Rick Snell, and one that was later abandoned.
Dr Snell, who assisted the ABC in appealing to the ombudsman, said it was “astounding” that it took more than a year after the information was requested for it to be released, and said it justified the “lousy reputation” of Tasmania’s right to information process.
“The Act actually requires agencies to start from a position of wanting to release the information unless they can come up with a really good reason not to,” he said.
“What they did in this particular circumstance, as they do in a lot of cases, is to go the other way.
“They started off with not wanting to release the information and throwing everything including the kitchen sink into the process to justify not releasing the information.”
Tasmania’s ombudsman subsequently found in favour of the ABC, directing the Health Department to provide the information by July 20 – a direction it failed to meet.
It eventually sent the document through in August.
The department said it had implemented six of the eight recommendations made by Deloitte, with the remaining two still being monitored.