Beacon apologises for vaccine controversy and starts independent review

Twenty teachers and staff in a fee-paying school received ‘leftover’ vaccines in the private hospital last week

The Beacon Hospital in Dublin. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

The Beacon Hospital in Dublin. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

Beacon chief Michael Cullen is facing a lawyer’s review of the decision to vaccinate teachers from a private school as the hospital board comes under mounting Government pressure to deal decisively with the affair.

As Taoiseach Micheál Martin hit out at the private hospital in Dublin, saying its actions were “repugnant”, the Beacon board apologised unreservedly on Monday evening for the “upset caused by the vaccination of teachers” from St Gerard’s School.

Last week, 20 teachers and staff in St Gerard’s, a fee-paying school just outside Bray, Co Wicklow, received “leftover” vaccines in the private hospital. The children of Mr Cullen attend the school.

But the hospital directors, in their statement released on Monday evening, stopped short of any immediate public sanction against Mr Cullen, and moved instead to seek an independent review by Eugene McCague, the former head of Arthur Cox solicitors.

The board said Mr McCague has been asked to “ascertain all of the facts” associated with the operation of the hospital vaccination centre, in line with its responsibility to ensure due process.

The Beacon’s controlling shareholder is businessman Denis O’Brien. “Upon completion of the review, the non-executive members of the board will consider its findings and will at that time take any necessary actions required,” said the statement released on behalf of the board.

A spokeswoman for the Beacon had no comment on any deadline for the review and no comment when asked whether the board was committed to publishing Mr McCague’s findings.

The debacle has already led the Government to suspend the hospital’s vaccination programme. In its statement, however, the board noted that its vaccination centre was “fitted out, staffed, operated and funded” by the hospital in line with its commitment “to assist the national effort” to combat the pandemic.

But Mr Martin launched a sharp attack on the hospital’s conduct, saying what had happened was “very, very wrong” and unacceptable. “It is repugnant to people that something like that would have happened,” he told reporters.

“That’s why the administration of vaccine [at the Beacon Hospital] has been suspended. The vaccines belong to the people of Ireland and prioritisation to date has been given to the most vulnerable.”

Mr Martin was speaking in Croke Park at the launch of the Government’s new plan aimed at reviving rural Ireland

Records in the Register of Lobbying show that Mr Cullen lobbied Stephen Donnelly last year soon after he took office as Minister for Health.

Mr Cullen’s call with the minister was to “discuss how future models of public body interaction with private hospitals could be structured”. The aim was to “deliver maximum benefit for patients and more value for money for the State while also allowing the hospitals to plan for this appropriately.”

There was no comment from St Gerard’s.

Meanwhile, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, speaking in the Dáil before the Beacon statement was released, said what had happened there “stank of privilege”.

He said a letter was being sent to the board asking for a full account and “whether other vaccines in the care of the Beacon Hospital have gone outside of prioritisation”.

“These vaccines do not belong to the Beacon Hospital or to any hospital; they belong to the Irish people,” he added.

Separately, the HSE’s national lead on the vaccine rollout programme, Damien McCallion has defended the programme following the controversy over teachers being vaccinated at the Beacon Hospital.

Mr McCallion told RTÉ Radio One’s Today with Claire Byrne show that he did not believe there was an issue with people being vaccinated out of sequence. He agreed that what had happened at the Beacon hospital had been “disheartening”.

“We certainly weren’t happy,” he said.

There were clear guidelines about sequencing and having back-up lists, he added.