Auditors have expressed concern over how the Department of Health has accounted for Â£ 135million in spending in its annual budget.
Auditor General Kieran Donnelly said he disagreed with how the department chose to record spending in its accounts.
He said accounting practices regarding the Â£ 135million did not comply with Department of Finance guidelines or international accounting standards.
Mr Donnelly said the effect of the ministry’s approach meant that funds had been kept in the health and social care sector when they would otherwise have been redistributed to other departments in Stormont or returned to the Treasury.
The issues relate to how three liabilities were recorded – the expenditure for a Covid-19 recognition payment of Â£ 500 for staff, especially those working in the self-employed sector; registration of sickness benefits with the NI ambulance service; and the recording of salary costs for clinical excellence awards.
In each case, the liabilities were recorded as accrued liabilities in the accounts, rather than as provisions.
Mr. Donnelly stated that accrued liabilities relate to planned expenditures for which there is certainty as to the timing and amount of financial obligation.
He said liabilities should be recorded as provisions in cases where there is uncertainty over the timing and amount of payment.
The auditor general said there was sufficient uncertainty on the three accounting issues that they were recorded as provisions in the ministry’s accounts.
He said treating items as accrued liabilities rather than provisions had the effect of leveraging funds from existing budgets for future payments.
“I am concerned about the number of examples of the Ministry of Health and the broader HSC sector applying an accounting treatment for liabilities that does not follow the budget guidelines of the Ministry of Finance or international accounting standards,” he said. -he declares.
âThe ministry maintains that this does not represent an attempt to circumvent DoF budget guidelines in order to conserve funds and I have no evidence that this is the case.
“Nonetheless, the effect is to keep a significant amount of funding, over Â£ 135million, in the HSC sector that would otherwise have been redistributed within the Northern Ireland funding bloc or returned to the Treasury.”
In response to the release of the Audit Office report, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health said: âThe ministry has received the report from NIAO, which it will review and respond through the appropriate channels. “