Coombe master must resign after ‘serious errors’ in vaccine scandal, board told

Prof Michael O’Connell ‘no longer commands respect of colleagues’, consultant says

The  master of the Coombe hospital has been asked to resign over the decision to vaccinate family members of staff ahead of priority groups in January.   Photograph: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

The master of the Coombe hospital has been asked to resign over the decision to vaccinate family members of staff ahead of priority groups in January. Photograph: Colin Keegan, Collins Dublin

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A medical professor at Trinity College Dublin has called on the master of the Coombe hospital to resign in the wake of the controversy over family members of staff receiving Covid-19 vaccines.

Prof Deirdre Murphy, head of obstetrics at Trinity and a consultant at the Coombe, told the board of the Dublin maternity hospital in a letter last week the master Prof Michael O’Connell made “serious errors of judgment” with the vaccination of 16 relatives of staff ahead of priority groups late on January 8th.

She said he “no longer commands the respect of his colleagues” following the “vaccine scandal” and the publication of the independent review for the hospital’s board this month.

His errors of judgment were “compounded by the manner in which he has attempted to displace responsibility for his actions”, she said.

Prof O’Connell told the review the decision to vaccinate family members was not his but reached in consensus by a group of 11 consultants and staff in conversation.

The review by Brian Kennedy SC also found Prof O’Connell did not stand in the way of another consultant at the hospital, Dr Carmen Regan, taking doses home to vaccinate family members.

In her April 7th letter, Prof Murphy said the master has “overall responsibility for the events relating to the vaccination of family members within the hospital and in a consultant’s home”.

“This behaviour has been brought to the attention of the Medical Council and is likely to warrant a review process. He needs to stand aside in the best interests of the hospital,” she wrote.

“It is the board’s responsibility to hold Dr O’Connell accountable for his actions as master/CEO. The board has not fulfilled its duty and, contrary to the recent statement, it is failing in its responsibility to uphold the strong values of this community-based hospital.

“There is a policy of ‘open disclosure’ within the hospital that demands transparency when things go wrong with patients,” Prof Murphy wrote.

Frontline workers

“How can junior doctors, midwives and nurses be expected to disclose their clinical errors if the master/CEO will not take responsibility for his own poor judgment?”

She said there were 39 medical students ready to be vaccinated on the night and that frontline healthcare workers in midwifery, ultrasound and physiotherapy were also “overlooked” and “had to wait several weeks during the peak of the pandemic for the next round of vaccinations”.

She also queried how the board could say with confidence that the 16 family members were the only people vaccinated out of sequence when 120 people not identified by the local HSE community hospital group prior to their arrival were vaccinated at the Coombe with no official documentation.

In response to series of questions to the Coombe board and master, a spokeswoman for the hospital said that in line with its recent statement about the controversy, the hospital “takes what occurred extremely seriously and has started a process to address the implications”.

She said that “key actions and measures are being implemented to ensure such an incident could not occur again and hospital guidelines and protocols will be enhanced with a particular focus on embedding our strong values as a community-based voluntary hospital”.

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