Women died as a result of St Vincent’s ‘cancer drug fraud’
John Crown says claim hospital didn’t know research programme existed ‘absurd’
Independent Senator John Crown has accused the management and board of St Vincent’s Hospital of a “cover-up” of fraud at the facility by deliberately charging health insurers for medicines it received free. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times
Women died from breast cancer after clinical trials at St Vincent’s private hospital were suspended in a cover-up of a €1 million fraud at the medical facility, Independent Senator John Crown has claimed.
The consultant medical oncologist at the hospital was speaking for the second day in the Seanad on how staff at the hospital charged the VHI “deliberately and fraudulently” for high cost cancer drugs, even though they were provided free to them by a pharmaceutical company.
He said: “When they were caught out they next attempted to prove that the research programme was illegal - tens of thousands of euro of public money wasted in an attempt to criminalise part of their own organisation.”
Prof Crown added that “as a result of their action the research programme was closed down for a year, women were denied access to herceptin, which we now know was life-saving.
“Though it wasn’t the intent of the fraudsters or those who attempted to cover up, as an indirect result of their actions, women died.”
The Irish Medicines Board said a protocol violation was reported in 2002 and the drugs trial was suspended. Women already in the trials continued with the drug treatment but recruitment of new patients to the trial was suspended.
The trials at the hospital were part of an international research programme on the drug herceptin, which has since been licensed.
The NUI Senator said his hospital, its management and its board failed these women.
In a statement last night chairman of St Vincent’s Healthcare Group Prof Noel Whelan said he had already asked Senator Crown to forward to him, as a matter of extreme urgency, all information he had in relation to the very serious allegations so that it could be fully considered by the Board of St Vincent’s Healthcare Group. “A reply from Senator Professor Crown is awaited.”
Professor Whelan said: “Due to the gravity of the allegations that Senator Crown is now making it is even more urgent that he supplies all information that he has in relation to his allegations.”
The statement also said that “if new evidence becomes available the Board of St. Vincent’s Healthcare Group will take all appropriate action”.
The healthcare group said the matters raised by Prof Crown related to issues in 2002 at St Vincent’s Private Hospital and predated the establishment of the health group and the formation of its board.
The consultant oncologist said that at the time he informed the relevant authorities the Irish Medicines Board. An investigation began, inexplicably stopped and was reformatted several days later, he said.
Chief executive of St Vincent’s Healthcare group Nicky Jermyn said this week that the €1 million, had been repaid to the VHI by the hospital and that there had been a “genuine error involved”.
But Prof Crown said this “was the only way they could justify a very substantial and deliberate misbilling of money from the Voluntary Health (Insurance) and other insurers, in the process spending many tens of thousands of public money in pursuit of this cover-up.”
He said the medical facility spent a large amount of public money “trying to defend the absurd contention that the hospital wasn’t aware that a very large research programme existed”.
Under privilege in the Seanad, he said that in 2002 a St Vincent’s hospital administrator told him the hospital had been charging VHI and other insurers for drugs that had been provided free.
“In the letter, he stated that this was inadvertent and invited me to join with the hospital in making a joint approach to the insurers.”
But he told the House he saw other documents which showed that this was untrue that the hospital deliberately charged for the drugs.
The NUI Senator was speaking during debate on the Local Government Reform Bill. He said of St Vincent’s, that “a large amount of public moneys, probably tens or hundreds of thousands were spent by a body which had no local authority representatives on it, which I believe it should have done in the cover-up of a financial fraud”.
Minister for Health James Reilly has requested that Prof Crown provide any pertinent material to the secretary general of his department.