Inquiry into Beacon vaccination controversy still not completed

Lawyer investigating misuse of vaccines at private hospital wants to talk to HSE officials

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The lawyer investigating the misuse of coronavirus vaccines at the Beacon private hospital wants to talk to HSE officials, months after the health authority said it “did not approve” the inoculation of teachers at a fee-charging school.

The hospital board appointed Eugene McCague in late March to review the affair as it came under fire from the Government for breaching vaccination rules but he has yet to complete his report.

Observers have questioned why the investigation is taking so long. The inoculation of 20 teachers and staff at St Gerard’s in Bray, Co Wicklow was arranged over 45 minutes on a single day.

The controversy erupted at a time of anxiety about the pace of the vaccine rollout, when strict lockdown measures were still in place throughout the State. It centred on disquiet at a private institution favouring another private institution with a public commodity.

The Beacon told the HSE several weeks ago that Mr McCague, a former managing partner of Arthur Cox solicitors, wanted to speak to health officials about the hospital’s vaccination programme. Engagements between the hospital and the HSE were delayed because of the HSE cyber attack, although they are said to have had contact “back and forth” in the past week.

“We will respond positively to any reasonable requests for information and are seeking clarity on what precisely is being sought,” the HSE said.

The vaccination incident prompted severe criticism of the hospital by Taoiseach Micheál Martin and led to calls for the removal of Michael Cullen, the Beacon chief executive. His children are pupils at St Gerard’s.

It is understood there has been contact between Mr McCague and the school, whose chairman has said the vaccinations were organised via phone calls and text messages on March 23rd. St Gerard’s had said it was assured by the Beacon that it “had HSE permission” but the HSE was quick to dismiss that, saying vaccines were administered contrary to “very clear guidelines”.

Health insurers

The controversy led John O’Dwyer, chief of State health insurer VHI, to step down temporarily over his vaccination at the Beacon. He resumed duties last month after the VHI board said he was inoculated due to a medical condition.

Certain staff at another health insurer, who were known to the Beacon “as part of a commercial relationship”, said the hospital had approached them saying they could avail of vaccinations. That health insurer has not been contacted as part of Mr McCague’s review, according to a person close to the insurer.

There was no comment from the Beacon, whose main shareholder is businessman Denis O’Brien. The hospital has never published Mr McCague’s terms of reference and has never said whether his report will published.

“The review process is ongoing. The board has appointed an independent expert to carry out this work and is not providing any further comment at this time,” the Beacon said in response to questions.

One source with links to the Beacon said there were divergent views on the affair in the hospital. “There’s an attitude of ‘so what’ about it among medics and among the management team... There’s an air about that the media have made a mountain out of a molehill.”

But others had a different view, the person added. “There’s a lot of disquiet and a lot of angst.”

Although Mr McCague’s review is said to be well advanced, he is understood to be saying that he cannot conclude the work without talking to the HSE. Some 10,000 people were inoculated at the hospital, most of them health service employees, before the Government suspended its vaccination programme.

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