The agency responsible for ehealth in Ontario has become the centre of a scandal involving uncompetitive contract awards, massive consultancy fees and posh biscuits.

The agency in question, eHealth Ontario, is reported to have forked out nearly €3.2m (CAD $5m) in contracts without any apparent attempt to open up the deals to outside bidders, according to reports by CBC News show.

Set up less than nine months ago, eHealth Ontario replaced the Long-term Care and Smart Systems for Health Agency (SSHA), an agency once mired in questions over its own operations.

Contracts valued at about €3m (CAD $4.8m) were signed off by eHealth Ontario’s CEO and president, Sarah Kramer, during the first four months of the newly formed agency’s operation, according to documents obtained by the Progressive Conservative party through a freedom of information request.

According to CBC reports, lucrative contracts handed out during the first months of eHealth’s operation, included €586,00 ($915,000 CAD) to healthcare consulting firm Courtyard Group, and two contracts in a single day to Accenture that topped €640,000 ($1m CAD). Canadian provincial agencies are meant to put a contract out to tender when it is excess of €64,000 ($100,000 CAD).

Kramer is reported to have resigned at the weekend after only seven months at the helm following the publication of the documents.

According to Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper one consultant was paid €19,200 ($30,000 CAD) for 78 hours work, while the son of board chairman Alan Hudson worked for a firm closely connected to the agency.

Papers show one consultant billed the agency up to €48,000 ($75,000 CAD) a month in fees and expenses. Consultant expenses included claims for Choco Bites and Tim Hortons tea.

Commentators says the scandal has less to do with expenses and severance payments – Kramer left with €202,000 ($316,670 CAD) in severance pay – but with the way contracts were handed out with limited scrutiny or competitive tender.

EHealth, is the agency set up by the Ontarian Ministry of Health less than nine months ago to create an electronic health record for Ontarians.

The primary goal is electronic health records for all residents of the province by 2015. The new agency would also focus on three areas:

  • A diabetes registry.
  • An eHealth portal to centralize health information on one website.
  • Electronic medication prescribing, which would eliminate handwritten prescriptions with the goal of reducing medication errors.

Canada had been working to the national goal of ensuring 50% of Canadians are covered by electronic health records by 2010. This has recently been modified the goal of covering 100% of Canadians by 2016.