Health agency slammed for failing to produce auditable accounts for second consecutive year

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has come under fire for failing to produce timely auditable accounts for the second consecutive year, with concerns raised over a lack of information about the model it uses to meet demand for Covid vaccines.

The head of the National Audit Office (NAO) said the situation is “deeply unsatisfactory” and called on the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to “urgently exercise adequate control”.

Its disclaimer of UKHSA’s accounts, published on Thursday, was down to a lack of “assurance over in-year transactions and open balances, together with a lack of assurance over closing balances relating to the Covid Vaccine Unit (CVU)”.

The CVU, which procures jabs to support national vaccination programmes, was transferred to UKHSA from DHSC in October 2022.

However, the model it used to predict future demand was changed in August 2023 in response to new Covid variant Eris.

The NAO said its audit team “were not informed of this change on a sufficiently timely basis to allow a full audit”.

UKHSA updated forecasts and provided the revised version of the model in December, but failed to provide supporting documentation.

It also emerged that during the 2022/23 year, Covid vaccines worth £127.6 million expired.

As of March 31, the total accounting value of the jabs was £271.6 million.

Gareth Davies (pictured), head of the NAO, said it is “clearly deeply unsatisfactory” that he has been “unable to provide an opinion on the UKHSA accounts for a second consecutive year”.

A UKHSA spokesperson said: “We recognise and take very seriously the NAO’s decision.

“The Covid Vaccine Unit was transferred to UKHSA in the middle of the financial year and a specific issue relating to closing balances for the Covid vaccines budget meant that full assurance could not be completed on time.

“Despite this we have made huge progress in our financial management and controls and look forward to working with the NAO as we continue to strengthen this.”

A spokesperson for DHSC added: “The department has put in place a rigorous financial improvement plan for the UK Health Security Agency, with strict oversight and governance to make sure this does not happen again.

“We are committed to bringing the timetable for audits forward and alleviating capacity constraints, so we expect more NHS organisation audits to be completed earlier this year.”

Elsewhere, DHSC accounts revealed that £9.9 billion of the £13.6 billion spent on personal protective equipment (PPE) has been written down because it was unusable or its value has crashed since the pandemic.

There were also irregularities identified in NHS England’s accounts.

The NAO found 12 medical practitioners received ineligible suspension payments from the 2017-18 to 2022-23 financial years totalling £1.3 million.

It said NHS England had “failed to establish a system of control to ensure suspension payments were only paid to medical practitioners who met the qualifying criteria, and that suspension payments were stopped promptly once the qualifying period ended”.

Mr Davies also raised concerns about a “lack of timeliness regarding NHS audits and the wider ecosystem, particularly amid ongoing challenges in the local authority audit landscape”.

He added: “Meanwhile, ongoing efforts to detect, prevent and recover fraud must continue, improving public confidence that this drain on the public finances is being tackled effectively and efficiently.”

NHS England has been approached for comment.

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