HSE Compliance Statement breaches agency constitutions

Many managers of voluntary health providers have been unable to sign off in full the HSE Compliance Statement, which has been first introduced this year, because it would breach their constitutions, memorandums and articles of association and trusts. Maureen Browne reports.

Maureen Browne
Maureen Browne

Many managers of voluntary health providers have been unable to sign off in full the HSE Compliance Statement, which has been first introduced this year, because it would breach their constitutions, memorandums and articles of association and trusts, some of which date back hundreds of years.

These compliance statements, which cover governance, internal controls, risk management, remuneration, finance, preservation of capital assets, taxation and procurement were all due to be signed by the Chairs and Boards and submitted to the HSE by May 31, last.

All agencies say they are committed to the principles of good governance and have robust governance structures in place. But they say the generic nature of the HSE Compliance Statement does not take into account their individual situations, conflicts with their governing documents, the costs involved and the difficulties it would pose to their continuing to maintain their board structures. For agencies established by statute or trust, governing documents are not easily amended.

The matter has been further complicated by the fact that the agencies have not yet received from the HSE the complete Service Level Agreement for 2014, which is an integral part of the governance structure of Section 38 Agencies.

“We have excellent governance standards in place and we believe our management structure facilitates good governance, but some aspects of what the HSE is now seeking are just ultra vires our constitution,” said one senior manager.

“The restriction on those who can be appointed to our Board and the limitation on the length of time which Board members and Chairs can serve would pose significant difficulties for us.”

Many voluntary agencies have traditionally had senior members of the medical and nursing staff on their boards, which they say have been greatly beneficial to the running of their organisations, but this is no longer allowed under the HSE Compliance Statement, which bans staff from boards

“The Compliance Statement also prescribes that Board members should have certain competencies. This will be difficult for us to implement and again could conflict with our constitutions. However, it is something we can look at,” said another manager.

The Compliance Statement also prescribes that Board members should have certain competencies which will be difficult for us to implement and again could conflict with our constitutions.

Managers are generally concerned about the larger problem of trying to get people with required competencies to serve as board members. “Some hospitals benefit from the expertise of having a number of retired consultants on the board,” said a manager. “The work of boards is becoming far more onerous and it is becoming harder and harder to get people willing to serve before you even start about matching competencies. It is not good for volunteerism going forward a lot of good will be lost.”

A number of people have also expressed disquiet with the requirement that board members should only be appointed for limited terms, saying that not only will it be difficult to continually establish new boards but it will also result in loss of corporate memory

While all the agencies have externally audited accounts there is also concern that the HSE is now seeking an internal audit function and new committees such as a remunerations committee and a nominations committee which would be responsible for making nominations to the board, vetting people and carrying out inductions and a remuneration committees would be costly and might not sit comfortably with founding Charters or memorandums of articles.

Rather than miss the May deadline for submitting the Compliance Statement to the HSE, a number of agencies have tried to solve their dilemma by telling the HSE that they are fully compliant except in a number of named areas or subject to clarification in a number of areas.