Oncology clinical trials manager’s ‘serious misconduct’ finding

A finding of serious misconduct against a WA oncology clinical trials manager has been delivered by WA’s Corruption and Crime Commission.

In a report delivered on 19 September the Commission said its investigations had uncovered unsubstantiated overtime claims and unauthorised absences resulting in a false final leave payout for Judith Innes-Rowe, Clinical Trials Manager for the Clinical Trials Unit at Sir Charles Gardiner Hospital.

It said Ms Innes-Rowe claimed just over half a million dollars in overtime payments between July 2012 and November 2017 on top of her base salary of $112,000-$126,000 a year.

The Commission also found that Ms Innes-Rowe was absent on 125 days between November 2012 and November 2017 without submitting approved leave forms.   She was paid out approximately $65,000 in lieu of annual leave when her employment ended with North Metropolitan Health Service (NMHS) in December 2018.

“While she did indeed work very long hours, some of the payments to her were a benefit to which she was not entitled,” the CCC said in a statement.

The Commission said its investigation had highlighted weaknesses in the WA health department’s archaic payroll system, including a misplaced reliance on the vigilance of senior staff to oversee and approve overtime payments.

Its report found that the Clinical Trials Manager had been trusted by Professor Michael Millward, Consultant Clinical Oncologist, to whom she reported.

“[Professor Millward] considered her to be at such a level as to determine for herself when to work. She was not required to complete a timesheet. The work was getting done and he was not in a position to know of her daily movements. He was, however, placed in a position to approve her overtime claims,” the Commission’s report noted.

Professor Millward’s HE number – effectively his signature – was used by Ms Innes-Rowe on overtime forms but he told the Commission that he did not regularly look at them.

“Her claims were effectively ‘approved’ by manager inaction. The overtime claims only stopped when NMHS introduced a new [electronic] approval regime in November 2017,” the report said

The Commission said the Clinical Trials Unit’s funding came from the pharmaceutical industry, biotech companies, and clinical research organisations (CROs), and was intended to be used for cancer clinical trials.

“The trust placed in Ms Innes-Rowe, coupled with the weaknesses in systems and oversight, came at a significant cost to these sponsors.”

It also noted that despite two internal NMHS reports recommending disciplinary action against Ms Innes-Rowe, she was re-engaged via a recruitment agency in January 2019.

The CCC concluded that its investigation had highlighted serious misconduct of a public officer.

“The amounts of money involved are significant. Whether recovery action is considered is a matter for NMHS.”

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