Thursday September 24, 2020

Do not resuscitate: How the National Association of General Practitioners fell apart

Alleged inappropriate spending, unvouched expenses and dysfunctional governance. The confidential reports and real story behind yet another fall from grace of a GP representative body

Susan Mitchell

Deputy Editor and Health Editor

@susmitchellsbp
5th May, 2019
3
Chris Goodey, chief executive, NAGP

An explosive story surfaced about the country’s leading medical union, the Irish Medical Organisation (IMO), in 2013.

There was lavish spending, a private jet and first class flights. The IMO’s former chief executive George McNeice had, somehow, negotiated a pension entitlement that was worth an estimated €20 million (later reduced to about €9.7 million).

The turmoil engulfing the IMO resulted in the rebirth of the National Association of General Practitioners (NAGP), a rival group where disappointed and disaffected GPs found a new home.

Many hoped this GP representative body would herald a new dawn for general practice. Within a few years it claimed to have 2,000 members, each paying membership fees of up to €750 per year.

Instead, just six years after the IMO’s very public debacle, the NAGP is imploding. The association finds itself at the centre of a quagmire involving serious allegations of dysfunctional governance and unorthodox financial arrangements centred on its own chief executive Chris Goodey.

Last weekend, almost the entire council of the NAGP resigned, citing serious concerns about its governance and finances.

Reports into the NAGP’s financial affairs found significant failings and outlined unusual payments, unvouched expenses and large cash withdrawals from the company credit card.

Former members of the council have discussed contacting the Office of the Director of Corporate Enforcement (ODCE) over what they have learned. “I intend to do that,” said one.

Others have informed the directors of the NAGP (there are three) that they intend to contact the ODCE. Where did it all go wrong?

***

In March 2018 the incoming president of the (NAGP) resigned, citing governance concerns.

Dr Yvonne Williams told this newspaper that she had raised concerns about the organisation’s finances, but was “unable to get answers”.

There was significant media coverage of her resignation at the time but, while the media may have moved on, the problems engulfing the body have only worsened.

Last weekend, all members of the national council (bar the three directors) of the NAGP resigned. Among those who resigned was the NAGP president, Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail.

They resigned within hours of seeing a report produced by businessman Chay Bowes, who was asked by Ó Tuathail to initiate a review of the books and records at the association.

Council members who spoke with this newspaper described being stunned by the contents of Bowes’s observational report, which was presented to them at a meeting held on April 25.

Dr Maitiú Ó Tuathail, who resigned as president last weekend

“People were speechless. It was soul-destroying,” said a former member of the council, who said the meeting started at 6pm and went on until after midnight.

Bowes, who attended the meeting, outlined unorthodox cash withdrawals on the company credit card, unvouched expenses plus a multitude of other issues.

In his report, he expressed real concern about the financial position of the NAGP. Bowes believed it was trading while insolvent.

In a statement they issued last Sunday evening, the former council members said: “At last year’s agm, concerns were raised about governance of the NAGP. Following this, the national council commissioned a governance report from Ampersand, which recommended a new governance structure for the organisation and we had begun that journey.

“Subsequently, serious issues of internal governance were brought to the attention of the national council and the directors of the NAGP.”

That same evening, a press release was sent to journalists on behalf of what was left of the NAGP. In it, the directors blamed the government and others for their woes. The press release surprised former council members as it included a quote from chief executive Chris Goodey.

Goodey had, in fact, resigned some weeks earlier, although members were not informed of his departure. He was reinstated last weekend.

In an interview with this newspaper last Friday, Goodey said he had offered to resign a few weeks ago as the NAGP was in financial difficulty and he believed it could save money on his salary. He said he had “offered to resign and they accepted”.

Goodey claimed that relations were good at that point and that council members hugged him and thanked him for all his work. He said a letter announcing his departure was prepared for members.

“I said ‘don’t worry about me, I’ll earn twice as much in the private sector working for pharma or whoever’, but they – some of the council and I don’t know who they were – wouldn’t let that letter go out [to members about] my resignation. So it never went out.”

Goodey said he kept his head down. “They didn’t want me to talk to any members, which was difficult.”

Suddenly, circumstances changed. “I was reappointed last Sunday by the directors, because they said the survival of the organisation was paramount,” he said, adding that the directors “wanted to put together a rescue package for the NAGP”.

He accused the council of leaking details of his resignation to this newspaper, saying: “I think the council thought that by leaking my resignation that would be the end of the NAGP and that we’d go into liquidation. I think it’s the wrong thing to do for the membership.”

***

The observational report prepared by Bowes was not the first serious warning the NAGP had been given. Accounting firm UHY Farrelly Dawe White prepared what it called “a draft report to those charged with governance” last year. It was dated October 2018.

The contents were alarming, but do not appear to have been shared with all – if any – council members.

“The non-disclosure of that report, particularly when we were already discussing governance, was disturbing. I still haven’t seen it,” said one former member of the national council.

The auditors had warned that the NAGP was “at risk of the Revenue taking action which may result in the company being wound up”. They said they had “identified net transfers totalling €114,500 to the CEO’s personal bank account”, and went on to say that Goodey had provided an “analysis” for the money “extracted” from the company.

The sums of money identified as being transferred directly into Goodey’s bank account were as follows: monthly expense claims totalling €50,992 (less personal expenses identified of €1,660); consultancy fees not billed of €30,000; net salary €15,180; personal payments made to (name withheld by this newspaper) of €9,988; and a chief executive bonus of €10,000.

Barnadown Hugginstown in Co Kilkenny, the private home which housed the NAGP head office

The auditors said they had not “received any invoices to support this expenditure other than for the consultancy fees and an invoice” from one named individual for €2,000.

They said Goodey had “provided analysis of the expense claims and from review of these we identified €1,660 as personal”.

Last Friday, Goodey said he did not dispute the sums outlined, but insisted he did have receipts and had sent invoices for the money.

Goodey said the €30,000 in consultancy fees formed part of his remuneration package for the year, as did the €10,000 bonus which, he claimed, was “signed off by Andy Jordan”, a director of the NAGP.

The auditors said that “the CEO’s gross salary per the payroll records for the year ended 31 March 2018 [totalled] €80,000.”

Goodey said he had stopped drawing a salary at the start of 2018 and that this was why he was paid as a consultant for a few months.

“Basically there were cashflow issues and so the money wasn’t always there to pay me. And so, in order to help with the cashflow issues, I wasn’t on a salary,” he said.

The auditors performed a review of the expenses charged to the company credit card during that same financial year. They said Goodey had provided an “analysis” of this too.

Expenses charged to the credit card came to €54,502. Out of that sum, €8,881 was charged to the credit card for ATM withdrawals, with Goodey telling the auditors that this money was “withdrawn for payments made for public relations”.

When asked to elaborate on the €8,881 in cash withdrawals on the company credit card, Goodey said.

“It’s a very small amount of money. I stand over the expenses,” Goodey said..

Goodey claimed the report “was riddled with errors. It’s just garbage,” he said.

“I’m happy to get the auditors to clarify if you want.” said Goodey.

(The Sunday Business Post said a statement from the auditors to that effect would be helpful, but never received one.)

“I can categorically say that I have never done anything wrong,” said Goodey, before adding that he felt he was being “thrown under a bus”.

***

Council members said the report prepared by Bowes spoke of unorthodox cash withdrawals in the early hours at casinos and nightclubs.

Goodey said he had immediately repaid a sum of money he took out in a casino. Various sources said there was more than one.

The Bowes report also identified tens of thousands in unvouched credit card use and cash payments.

Again, Goodey insisted that he had provided invoices and receipts.

Several former council members said the Bowes report referenced the unusual physical infrastructure of the NAGP’s office.

On its website, and in correspondence, the NAGP lists its office as being located at 17 Kildare Street in Dublin 2. That is where the Irish Small and Medium Enterprise Association (Isme) is based.

In fact, the NAGP’s office is located in an extension to a private home in Kilkenny.

Bowes told the council that files were stacked in the shower cubicle, but Goodey rejected this assertion.

The home that houses the NAGP’s office is owned by Mary Aylward, described as the general manager of the NAGP. Council members were told she was on €100,000 per year.

Aylward has also been paid rent for the NAGP’s use of her property. Goodey said she was paid €700 per month by the NAGP.

Bowes said Goodey had lived at the property for a period of time. Goodey said he sometimes stayed the night when he had a large volume of meetings, as it was a “large home”, but said he had not lived there.

In his report, Bowes expressed real concern about the financial position of the NAGP. Bowes told former council members that he believed the NAGP was trading while insolvent.

He flagged a number of large debts that were owed by the NAGP, including more than €100,000 to Revenue and €200,000 to other creditors including Ulster Bank.

“We’ve been trying to enter into a deal [with Revenue]. They know exactly what we owe,” said Goodey, who added that the sum owed to Revenue was now closer to €71,000.

“To be clear, we are not trading [at the moment]. We are not collecting any money and we are not spending any money because once the leak on Sunday had happened then we were insolvent, as collecting money owed would be very difficult,” he said.

Goodey said it had been “a difficult few weeks” for him, and that the workload at the NAGP had been gruelling. “I haven’t had a day off in three years,” he said, adding that he had “lost his marriage as a result”.

Goodey said he had received huge support from members. “I’ve had hundreds of texts and emails of support.

“What was it Charlie Haughey said? ‘I’ve done some good and they know it’.”

Former council members who spoke with this newspaper said they were “disappointed”, “angry” and “devastated”.

“I’m absolutely fucking raging. If they think we’re going to go down with the Titanic they’re wrong,” said one.

The Sunday Business Post understands that Bowes was asked to consider becoming chief executive of the NAGP in recent weeks.

He agreed, subject to the outcome of his review.

After examining the books he advised that the directors needed to resign, former council members said.

But, the directors dug in.

Bowes terminated his involvement with the NAGP last weekend, warning that the company should be wound up.

What the auditors said

The chief executive provided the following analysis for the money extracted from the company:

Expense claims (monthly) €50,992

Less: personal expenses identified (€1,660)

Consultancy fees not billed €30,000

Net salary €15,180

Personal payments made to AN Other €9,988

Chief executive bonus €10,000

Total €114,500

We have not recieved any invoices to support this expenditure other than for the consultancy fees and an invoice from AN Other

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