Two large computer projects commissioned by the 26-County Department of Health are to be suspended as costs for the faltering projects ballooned into hundreds of millions of Euros.
The Dublin government was accused of gross incompetence as the Health Service Executive (HSE) shelved the malfunctioning systems, which have overrun their budgets by a factor of twenty.
The payroll system and a “financial information systems project” designed by high-powered consultancy firm Deloitte were also threatening to overwhelm health services.
Tanaiste and Health Minister Mary Harney denied that politicians were responsible for the failures -- which have seen costs for the payroll system alone spiral from an originally budgeted 8.8 million Euro in 1998 to 150 million Euro, including 70 million Euro on consultancy fees.
She said the problems did not stem from the technology used, but a chaotic health service which had existed under a number of different health boards before the Health Service Executive (HSE) was formed in 2003.
“The real problem is the fact that in the health service we have a jumble of incoherence as far as work practices are concerned; we’ve thousands of pay variations, thousands of rostas, many different grade structures and individual working arrangements,” she said.
“We had 11 different health boards: if there was any argument for getting rid of them, and many opposed their abolition, it is that this kind of chaos wouldn’t have happened.”
The Tanaiste said she had ordered a departmental review of the system which would be reporting to the HSE Board.
Opposition Fine Gael leader Enda Kenny said: “This is the daddy of them all in terms of the list of dishonour of projects that have overrun and where waste of money applies.”
In addition, the malfunctioning payroll system was responsible for overpaying some staff by up to a million Euros. In some cases, salary overpayments had not been returned.
Labour Health spokeswoman Liz McManus said the scale of the waste involved in this case “beggars belief”, pointing out that the funds wasted would have built a fully-equipped hospital.
“Instead it appears that this money has been allowed to disappear into a financial black hole,” she said.