Payroll system rollout to
be halted

4 Oct 2005

The future of the controversial Personal, Payroll and Related Systems (PPARS) computer system has been thrown into doubt with the news that Brendan Drumm, chief executive of the Health Services Executive (HSE), is to recommend to the HSE board of management this Thursday that the system rollout be suspended.

The ill-fated computer system, which has so far swallowed €120m in taxpayers’ money, was intended to revolutionise the ancient payroll system within the health services when it was commissioned in 1999 but instead has been mired in controversy amid accusations of poor performance and manageability. In one notorious incident, a health service employee was overpaid by €1m as part of an electronic funds transfer error.

The system is currently under investigation by the office of the Comptroller and Auditor General. John Buckley, the official handling the investigation, told in July: “We are looking at the project, the costs, the planned functionality and how it was planned and managed, and we want to see it is achieving the benefits. The reality is it has to be value for money for the Irish taxpayer.” When completed, his report will go before the Dáil.

Originally supportive of the project, the HSE’s stance has shifted markedly in recent months. As recently as July, the HSE mounted a robust defence of the system, saying it was generally working well and dismissing the €1m overpayment as “an old story related to starting-up error”. The new move by Drumm to suspend the system suggests the concerns about it are now being taken seriously at the top of the health system. The HSE has declined to comment until after its meeting on Thursday.

The PPARS system is intended to manage the payroll, time scheduling and personnel records of Ireland’s 120,000 health workers. Health sector salaries and wages account for €7bn or 70pc of the annual spend on health. The system uses SAP human resources software, while IBM hosts the system centrally on behalf of the Irish health agencies under a managed service agreement. The project rollout has been managed by consulting firm Deloitte. It is reported Deloitte has been paid €50m in consulting fees so far while IBM has pocketed €20m. An undisclosed proportion of the remaining €50m of the project cost would have gone to SAP in software licence fees.

By Brian Skelly