Crown: Vincent’s medical staff are ‘lions led by donkeys’

Senator says there is ample documentation to show administration aware of charging for free drugs

Ample documentation is available to show St Vincent’s private hospital administration was aware “at multiple levels” that charging the VHI for high cost cancer drugs provided free was not an error, Independent Senator John Crown has said.

He told the Seanad that in December St Vincent’s Hospital Group issued a statement that the billing was a “genuine error”.

But Prof Crown said there were " ample documents which show that this was not an error, that this was something that was known at multiple levels through the administration of the private hospital at the time".

Praising the work of his nursing and medical colleagues at the hospital he said his problems were specifically with the board structures of organisations within St Vincent’s.


He added: “One cannot get a better example since the first World War of lions led by donkeys than the situation as applied in this case.”

The NUI Senator first raised the issue in the Seanad before Christmas when he 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, in a fraud that began in 2002.

The consultant medical oncologist at the hospital said he had documentation which conclusively showed the hospital had “deliberately and fraudulently charged” private health insurers for cancer drugs provided free.

The VHI was subsequently repaid €1 million, which it said “had been raised incorrectly”.

Prof Crown said it could be argued that 2002 was a different time, “that standards were different, that things were laxer, that there was a bit of a cowboy mentality at play in various parts of the public service”.

But he added: “The administrative reaction to it then and since has been I believe extremely unsatisfactory and constitutes a cover-up”.

He said that of his comments in December: “I should have been more precise when I dissociated myself and my activities from the board of St Vincent’s hospital, not from the hospital itself. I have nothing but respect for the sterling work done by my nursing and medical colleagues in St Vincent’s.”

He said he had “no problem whatsoever with the activities of St Vincent’s foundation. My problems are specifically with the board structures of the various organisations in St Vincent’s and indeed in other voluntary hospitals, structures which I think have faultlines across them which I think are causing major problems and which need to be addressed.”

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times

Michael O'Regan

Michael O'Regan

Michael O’Regan is a former parliamentary correspondent of The Irish Times