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More SA Health staff blow whistle on department

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The number of reports to ICAC about SA Health employees has grown every year since the anti-corruption watchdog was set up, with a dramatic increase in reports coming from whistleblowers within the department itself.

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The Independent Commissioner Against Corruption has released statistics showing that in 2013, fewer than one in seven complaints to the agency were about SA Health staff – but now almost one third of all reports concern staff within the state’s largest government department.

And reports by SA Health staff about their own colleagues – as opposed to from members of the public – have made up the majority of the growth.

In October, Commissioner Bruce Lander described SA Health as being riddled with maladministration and very likely harbouring corruption.

On December 3, the Government tabled his report into the department, Troubling Ambiguity: Governance in SA Health, in which Lander describes SA Health as being “ripe for exploitation by corrupt employees”.

The report said misconduct was “common and accepted” within the department, conflicts of interest were often left undeclared and unmitigated, and poor record keeping, and missing or vague documents, had undermined his own investigations into alleged cases of corruption, which had to be abandoned as there was little chance of successful prosecution.

In parliament yesterday, Premier Steven Marshall urged Lander to make the number of ICAC complaints about SA Health employees under the previous Labor Government’s watch public, pointing out that Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas was formerly the Health Minister in the Weatherill Government.

“What we really need to know from the ICAC Commissioner, and hopefully this information will be provided, is how many of those complaints, those corruption allegations, occurred under the previous government?”

“What was the advice to the previous government, what action was taken and was he satisfied?

“Because we have to be clear: this is a report, a review which canvasses a large period of time, the majority of which we were not in government.”

But by the time Marshall made the comments in parliament the data had already been on the ICAC’s website for almost 24 hours, with the Commissioner’s official Twitter account tweeting a link to it during Question time yesterday.

 The chart below, constructed from the published data, shows the number of reports concerning SA Health employees over time – starting from when the ICAC began work in September 2013, up until December this year.

Data: Independent Commissioner Against Corruption. Graph: Nicky Capurso / Bension Siebert / InDaily

Most of the reports do occur before the Liberal Party won Government in March 2018.

But the data also shows a long growth trend, including a record number in 2018-19, the first full year of the Marshall Government.

The figures for 2013-14 and 2019-20 are represented as dots because neither data point includes a full financial year.

But the figure for the current financial year may be indicative: representing less than six months of data, the figure is already larger than half of the last year’s total.

The graph below shows complaints to ICAC about SA Health over the same period as a proportion of all complaints to the anti-corruption watchdog.

Data: Independent Commissioner Against Corruption. Graph: Nicky Capurso / Bension Siebert / InDaily

A spokesperson for Lander’s office told InDaily today he published the data this week in the interests of transparency.

“The further breakdown of complaints and reports data in relation to SA Health was published in the interests of transparency,” the spokesperson said.

A department spokesperson said: “It is incumbent on all SA Health staff to demonstrate the highest standard of behaviour – whether that is professional, financial or interpersonal – with a high level of integrity.”

We actively encourage staff to report any behaviour that give cause for concern directly to either the SA Health Hotline or The Office of Public Integrity, dependent on the nature of the conduct,” the statement reads.

The Government has come under sustained attack from the Opposition in recent months for refusing to give Lander’s office $2 million to conduct a full evaluation of SA Health – and from SA-BEST, which has long argued for a Royal Commission into SA Health.

The government has ruled out an independent inquiry into the department, instead setting up a taskforce led by the chief executive of the Department of Premier and Cabinet Jim McDowell to tackle its problems.

Health Minister Steven Wade has announced two big-ticket capital spends in Health over the past fortnight, including doubling the capacity of the emergency department at Flinders Medical Centre – an $86 million project – and construction work beginning on $96 million-worth of upgrades to Modbury Hospital.

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