Wessex health chief defended by minister

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The Independent Online
A CALL for the removal of Sir Robin Buchanan from the posts of chairman of the Wessex Regional Health Authority and of the NHS Supplies Authority during investigations into the loss of millions of pounds on a computer contract was rejected last night by Tom Sackville, Under-Secretary of State for Health.

Labour immediately pledged to pursue what David Blunkett, its health spokesman, called a 'complacent and contemptuous' decision with the all-party Commons Public Accounts Committee, which is investigating the scandal, and in further questions to Virginia Bottomley, Secretary of State for Health.

In a written Commons reply to Bob Cryer, Labour MP for Bradford South, Mr Sackville said he had every confidence in Sir Robin, who had fully encouraged the 'extensive action' taken by Wessex RHA to 'rectify the organisational problems' associated with the Regional Information Systems Plan (RISP).

An investigation by the Independent and the magazine Computer Weekly has disclosed details about two secret reports by the district auditor which throw light on the role of figures such as Sir Robin and Lord Jenkin, a former Tory cabinet minister, in the awarding of the computer contract.

Mr Blunkett said: 'The level of complacency and contempt for normal accountability is breathtaking.' Mrs Bottomley knew of the two reports but took no action.

In its defence yesterday the authority, which has admitted that at least pounds 20m was wasted on the RISP privatisation project, said that the background to the aborted scheme was covered in a 'comprehensive statement made to the press in July 1992'. Two months earlier it had also announced it was dismissing two senior managers for serious misconduct and invited the Fraud Squad to investigate.

Ken Jarrold, regional general manager, said: 'The Independent portrays this authority as a closed, secretive organisation which has deliberately tried to suppress details of very serious mismanagement, mishandling of public funds and wrongdoing by officers of the authority, contractors and consultants. Nothing could be further from the truth.'

Mr Jarrold added: 'It is true that the Independent has brought details about individuals and organisations to public attention and that those details are drawn from confidential reports. However, it is important to make it absolutely clear that all major issues were clearly referred to in the public report of the District Auditor issued by the authority in July 1992.'

The Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy has asked us to point out that the company CSL, referred to as owned by the institute in our article on the Wessex RHA on 4 February, was subsequently sold by the institute in June 1989 having been the subject of a management buy-out, the offer for which was made by the management in September 1988.