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"Cumulative errors" in EPAS procurement, Ombudsman finds

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SA Health failed to use proper procurement processes when it acquired controversial electronic health records program EPAS, the State Ombudsman has found.

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Ombudsman Wayne Lines’ investigation has found “cumulative procedural errors” in SA Health’s original procurement of the Enterprise Patient Administration System, including insufficient detail to justify not going to tender on the project.

But Lines cleared the department and its executives of maladministration and misconduct, according to a two-page summary final report, released on the Ombudsman’s website.

EPAS has come under fire for repeated cost blowouts – its budget is now $472 million – and persistent claims by medical staff that it poses threats to patient safety, despite SA Health data showing a drop in medication errors at sites using the software.

An internal SA Health audit of the procurement process, described in Lines’ report summary, found:

The Ombudsman also found the department failed to maintain records of “a significant number of invoices” concerning the procurement.

For that reason, he writes: “The department’s actions appear to have been contrary to law.”

Though they did not amount to maladministration in Lines’ view, he writes: “The cumulative procedural errors in relation to contract execution and the failure to disclose the contracts was particularly significant, given the scale and nature of the EPAS project and the public interest in its implementation.”

He notes, however, that the department has now taken steps to fix the problems, and the engagement of ZED did not, in itself, constitute substantial mismanagement of public resources.

Lines also found that none of the information provided to his investigation indicated that any SA Health executive had “close personal relationships” with ZED, and that neither the CEO of SA Health nor the chief information officer had engaged in misconduct.

And neither executive approved ZED to include testimonials on its website, and so, did not engage in misconduct.

A spokesperson for SA Health told InDaily this morning: “The Ombudsman’s investigation cleared the department and individuals involved of any misconduct or maladministration findings.”

The Ombudsman also found that SA Health had treated ZED as a “contractor” in its dealings during the procurement process whereas the company should have been considered a “consultant”.

In so doing, SA Health did not have to disclose the contract with the organisation publicly.

Lines has now ordered SA Health to disclose all contracts with ZED, to the extent required by a government directive that relates to consultants.

“As per the Ombudsman’s recommendation, the contracts will be uploaded to the SA Tenders and Contracts website shortly,” the SA Health spokesperson said.

Lines told InDaily he only published the two-page summary but not the full final report because all individuals named in it had each been cleared of wrongdoing.

He said the summary adequately described the pertinent issues in his investigation.

The Government has paused EPAS and is conducting a review.

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