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UKHSA failures ‘staggering’ with ‘weak financial controls’

UKHSA failures ‘staggering’ with ‘weak financial controls’
By Jess Hacker
5 July 2023

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) was set up with financial controls ‘so poor’ that it cannot establish if its transactions were applied to fulfil its purpose as laid out by Parliament.

This meant that the UKHSA’s £3.3bn worth of inventory transferred from NHS Test and Trace could not be verified by proper financial records.

A damning MP report also determined there is still no clear plan for a national emergency stockpile for future pandemics, nor any adequate control over existing PPE stock.

MPs sitting on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) have today (5 July) said the failures are ‘staggering’ and its lack of pandemic planning is ‘utterly inexcusable’.

In its new report, the PAC found that the UKHSA’s poor financial processes meant the organisation could not prepare any auditable accounts for the 2021-22 financial year – the year in which it was set up – and that improving them would require DHSC’s oversight.

Other major failings include appointing a chief executive with no previous technical experience in elements of running a complex organisation, and the organisation running without a budget from the DHSC.

The DHSC has also come under fire from MPs for lacking any clear stockpile of PPE, vaccines and medicines for a future pandemic.

Dame Meg Hillier MP, Chair of the Committee, said: ‘The UKHSA was set up with great fanfare in 2021, and rightly so given the significance of its role in leading protection against threats to our nation’s health.

‘It is completely staggering, then, that an organisation envisaged as a foundation stone of our collective security was established with a leadership hamstrung by a lack of formal governance, and financial controls so poor that billions of pounds in NHS Test & Trace inventory can no longer be properly accounted for.’

She added: ‘Three years after the start of the pandemic, the Government still has no proper controls over the PPE stocks it already has. This could leave front-line workers exposed in the future to shortages similar to those faced in 2020. For the Government not to make serious preparations for any future pandemic would be utterly inexcusable.’

The MPs recommended the UKHSA urgently rectify its financial processes to deliver its unqualified accounts.

The PAC has advised the DHSC to:

  • Rectify the UKHSA’s governance arrangements
  • Set out to the Treasury how it will put in place adequate inventory control over its PPE
  • To develop a cost-effective plan for a national emergency stockpile.

UKHSA chief executive Dame Jenny Harries, said: ‘We have always taken our accounts and financial controls very seriously. The UKHSA was created in unprecedented circumstances when tackling covid was our first priority, and we inherited significant pre-existing accounts challenges.

‘We have already instituted strong governance arrangements in a hugely complex organisation at the earliest opportunity. This progress means our organisation is now substantially different in terms of stability, governance and financial controls.

‘We are working with DHSC to ensure the robustness of our accounts is recognised both now and for the future. Despite these inherited financial challenges, the UKHSA continues to fulfil its priority remit – to protect lives.’

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