VHI chief steps aside as inquiry into his Beacon Hospital vaccination ordered
Claims hospital offered Covid-19 vaccine to health insurance figures with whom it did business
The Beacon Hospital came under severe Government criticism for vaccinating 20 teachers and staff at the private Co Wicklow school attended by the children of its chief executive. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
The chief executive of the VHI has stepped aside from his post at the State-backed health insurer after it ordered an investigation into his coronavirus vaccination at the Beacon Hospital.
John O’Dwyer’s abrupt move on Tuesday raises further questions for the Beacon as the privately-owned hospital faces new claims that it offered Covid-19 vaccines to other health insurance figures with whom it did business.
A senior industry source told The Irish Times that the Beacon was known to have approached certain staff at another health insurer saying they could avail of vaccinations at the hospital. “It was people they knew as part of a commercial relationship,” the source said.
The Beacon neither denied nor confirmed that such offers had been made. Asked directly about the source’s assertion, the hospital’s spokeswoman said “all matters related to the vaccination centre” at the Beacon will be considered in a review by Eugene McCague, the former head of Arthur Cox solicitors.
The hospital, controlled by businessman Denis O’Brien, commissioned the review after it came under severe Government criticism for vaccinating 20 teachers and staff at the private Co Wicklow school attended by the children of its chief executive, Michael Cullen.
The VHI has contracts with all private hospitals in the State. The company’s board made it clear in a statement last evening that it did not know of Mr O’Dwyer’s vaccination at the Beacon until yesterday morning, when it was reported by the Irish Daily Mail.
The VHI board discussed the matter at a meeting yesterday and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly spoke with Paul O’Flaherty, company chairman.
The statement said: “The board is aware, and with Mr O’Dwyer’s consent, can now disclose that he has been a patient of the Beacon Hospital and St James’s Hospital for oesophageal cancer. The board is commencing an investigation to establish the facts.”
Mr O’Dwyer offered to step aside while the investigation was ongoing and the board agreed. Declan Moran, a director of the company with responsibility for marketing and business development, was appointed acting chief executive.
The VHI board is required to comply with the Government’s code of practice for State bodies. The code states that “preferential treatment or benefits which might affect or appear to affect the ability of the donor or the recipient to make independent judgment on business transactions should be avoided”.
Taoiseach Micheál Martin told reporters he had “no evidence” that the misuse of vaccines “is more widespread than the Beacon”, adding that the hospital’s “behaviour” had angered the public. Asked about Mr O’Dwyer’s vaccination, Mr Martin said “my view on that is similar” and “everything has to be in accordance with the prioritisation set down”.