Health Department harbours a culture of secrecy – Wooldridge

Major work: The Base Hospital has undergone renovations and building worth hundreds of millions of dollars in recent times. Photo: Lachlan Bence.
Major work: The Base Hospital has undergone renovations and building worth hundreds of millions of dollars in recent times. Photo: Lachlan Bence.

The state opposition has launched a scathing attack over the handling of the $2.7 million scam crisis at Ballarat Health Service.

Opposition health spokesperson Mary Wooldridge has demanded the BHS scam case be investigated “without interference” from either state Health Department or minister Jill Hennessy.

Ms Wooldridge claimed there were consistent cover-ups of issues within the health sector in Victoria.

“The loss of millions of dollars to vital health services that could be spent delivering care and treatment to patients, and instead is lost to a scam is really unacceptable,” Ms Wooldridge said.

It is believed a series of Ballarat businesses were targeted by the fraudulent email and the criminals were brazen enough to take part in a telephone conversation with a Ballarat Health Services staff member.

“What we need is for Jill Hennessy to come clean on what she knew and when she knew about it, what she did about it and why she wanted to sweep this massive loss under the carpet, so that we can find out what’s happened and so that the health services can learn into the future,” Ms Wooldridge said.

“Daniel Andrews came to government promising to be open, honest, transparent and accountable and this is just another case where we can see he is not delivering on those promises.

“It’s happened in a number of different areas and now we see it in our health services, where it’s actually leaked information from behind closed doors, rather than a minister being open about a massive financial loss, and also how it’s going to be investigated.”

A source said that staff at the BHS were told to keep quiet about the fraud and not speak to media.

Deputy Premier James Merlino said the BHS was reviewing its processes with the oversight of the department, and he was confident the funds would be recouped.

It’s believed the money in the multi-million dollar ruse was transferred from a Melbourne bank account to Sydney, then to Abu Dhabi.

In a statement to The Courier the CEO of Ballarat Health Services Dale Fraser said the loss of funds will not affect patient services.

Ms Wooldridge said Mr Fraser needed to be given time to sort out the problems at Ballarat Health Services.

“The new CEO Dale Fraser, who has done a very good job previously in Shepparton, is just taking the reins right now in this critical time. What I’m disappointed about is that there has been turmoil over the last 12 months at the same time as there's been massive management changes and very poor performance in treating patients. The government has been slow to respond to that.”

Cyber crime expert Simon Smith of says the bank that allowed the account to be set up needs to be investigated as well.

“I believe that the banks have a duty of care to their customers, to protect the money of a customer,” says Mr Smith.

“There is data that would absolutely identify who sent that email. You can send a tracking device to the original email. I’m not sure what the AFP or Interpol are doing, but certainly you would look at the bank account and the email account.”

Mr Smith said he was happy to advise the BHS for free.