31 May 2019

Auditor serves notice on program trying to fix ACT Health's data issues

| Ian Bushnell
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Canberra Hospital

Canberra Hospital: Territory failed to submit its emergency department, elective surgery waiting times and mental health data for 2016 to the Productivity Commission after inaccuracies were found. Photo: George Tsotsos.

The Auditor-General has slammed the management of an ACT Health program set up to remedy data accuracy and performance reporting issues that have plagued the directorate for years.

Auditor-General, Michael Harris has presented a report on the Management of the System-Wide Data Review implementation program to the Speaker for tabling in the ACT Legislative Assembly.

The three-year program is the result of an investigation ordered by Minister for Health and Wellbeing Meegan Fitzharris in 2017 after the Territory failed to submit its emergency department, elective surgery waiting times and mental health data for 2016 to the Productivity Commission after inaccuracies were found.

ACT Health had already been under fire in 2012 when it was discovered hospital waiting times had been manipulated in previous years.

The Directorate is in the first year of the three-year program and the Auditor hopes an early look at how it is progressing will be useful to it.

Mr Harris says ACT Health has taken a short-term approach (six months at a time) and resourcing has been on a ‘business as usual’ basis, with no separate budget.

He says the program is being run poorly with ‘governance still under development and not yet mature enough to effectively support its implementation’, while planning is ineffective.

The audit found that there was neither transparency nor clarity about how and when the program will be delivered and if it will be completed.

It found there was no documented governance plan and program roles and responsibilities were not adequately defined.

“A series of committees and working groups that have been identified as supporting the implementation of the System-Wide Data Review are not yet effective; there is a lack of clarity with respect to roles and purpose and the groups are not consistently meeting and operating,” the audit says.

The role of the System-Wide Data Review Reference Group, the key committee overseeing of data governance and management in the Directorate is unclear and lacking purpose. It has only met twice since its establishment in November 2018.

Progress reports do not yet provide adequate information on estimated completion dates and the resources necessary to complete the program or realise its benefits.

The audit says that by not planning for program costs and monitoring these against a program budget, the Directorate cannot effectively manage future costs or put in place mitigation strategies to manage resource risks that could affect the delivery of the implementation program and its anticipated benefits.

It recommended that the program take on board how the Data Repository Population Project, part of the program, had been managed, with its well-defined project management arrangements that provide transparency and rigour.

ACT Health said the audit was conducted at an early stage in the implementation of the System-Wide Data Review recommendations, and the findings would ‘add significant value to the management of the program of work moving forward’.

But Opposition health spokesperson Vicki Dunne seized on the report, saying Ms Fitzharris’ failure to restore the integrity of health data was compromising patient safety.

She said the multi-million dollar System-Wide Data Review, handed down in August 2018, was one of numerous reports into dodgy data practices in the health system.

“Canberra’s health consumers are the real victims of dodgy data practices,” Mrs Dunne said.

“For years, our health system has been racked with data practices that lack integrity. Successive Labor Health Ministers have failed to restore integrity in health data.

“This report shows Canberrans can expect to see more of the same from Ms Fitzharris. This is another leadership failure from this Minister.”

She said the Government should make it a key priority to clean up data practices in the health system.

“Instead what we are seeing is yet another Labor Health Minister who is incapable of fixing a decade-old scandal,” Mrs Dunne said.

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