The Auditor General assigned to an audit of the WA Government’s $580 million procurement on covid tests has slammed the runaway costs which equated to two hospitals.
Auditor General Ms Caroline Spence in a statement said there were significant lessons to be learned from the COVID-19 pandemic response, particularly from the purchase, storage and distribution of Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs) in WA.
The report shares findings and observations from the 2022 State audit cycle. It is intended to provide a level of transparency and a public record of some of the irregular decisions, transactions and impacts that occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic response and reflects on some of the lessons that may be learned from the period.
Ms Spencer said the escalating costs ballooned from $3 million to $400 million.
“An initial intention by Health entities to spend $3 million on RATs for health workers and returning travellers rapidly evolved to purchasing $440 million worth of RATs – around twice the cost of the Bunbury Hospital redevelopment,” she said. Along with the $140 million spent by the Department of Finance on RATs, public entities spent the equivalent of 10% of the State’s 2022 operating surplus on diagnostic plastics without demonstrable evidence of clear, considered and coordinated planning or ongoing advice as to the necessity of the expenditure.”
The WA government purchased nearly more than 110 million tests. The state population is 2.7 million people.
Ms Spencer expressed shock at the “lack of consideration” in the procurement process.
“I acknowledge the uncertainty that the pandemic created… however, I have never before witnessed such escalation in the cost of a program over such a short timeframe, occurring with a lack of due consideration of the impacts, or without a record of anyone pausing to ask what level of procurement was sufficient and whether this had been achieved,” Ms Spencer said.
The audit found that to accommodate the RATs, Health Support Services increased their warehouses from two to 10.
“We found the controls over inventory, including receiving, recording and distribution were poor and we issued HSS a qualified audit opinion on controls for 2021-22,” Ms Spencer said. “While it is accepted that being in a pandemic environment creates uncertainty and pressure on government to ensure they are providing what is required, there needs to be a point where we take a step back and assess if the ongoing decisions being made are sound, in the public interest and represent value for money.”
Ms Spencer said it was important the right lessons are learned from the audit.