Tony O’Brien approved for share options days before leaving HSE

Sign-off agreed on director share-buying at US firm as cancer controversy deepened

Tony O’Brien, former director general of the HSE: got approval from shareholders in Evofem at its annual meeting in San Diego on May 8th to acquire 2,057 shares, two days before he stepped down from HSE role. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

Tony O’Brien, former director general of the HSE: got approval from shareholders in Evofem at its annual meeting in San Diego on May 8th to acquire 2,057 shares, two days before he stepped down from HSE role. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill

 

Tony O’Brien received approval to exercise his first share options as a director of a US healthcare company two days before he resigned as Health Service Executive director general over the CervicalCheck controversy.

US stock-market filings show that Mr O’Brien received approval from shareholders in Californian contraceptives developer Evofem at its annual meeting in San Diego on May 8th to acquire 2,057 shares in the company.

Mr O’Brien stepped down from his role at the HSE two days later.

He resigned as director general after it emerged he had read a memo from the National Screening Service in March 2016 showing letters informing women about false negative smear tests discovered during a clinical audit were being suspended pending legal advice.

He had previously said he was unaware the women were not being told about the audit until a media report in April about the settlement of a High Court case taken by Limerick woman Vicky Phelan.

Opposition politicians criticised Mr O’Brien’s appointment to the board of Evofem while serving as the HSE chief during the deepening crisis.

Conflict of interest

The Government defended his role at Evofem, saying it was permitted under his HSE contract once there was no conflict of interest and he received consent from Minister for Health Simon Harris, which he had.

The shares Mr O’Brien is entitled to acquire under the stock options are worth several thousand euro, based on Evofem’s current share price

Mr O’Brien told Mr Harris the job would take up no more than five hours a month and he would work these hours in his own time and travel to board meetings during his annual leave.

Political pressure over his role at Evofem last month led to him agreeing to take a temporary leave of absence while he completed the remainder of his term at the HSE. He resigned from the HSE a week later.

Public filings for Evofem, a company listed on Wall Street’s Nasdaq stock exchange, submitted a week later included updated information showing his resignation from the HSE.

The shares Mr O’Brien is entitled to acquire under the stock options are worth several thousand euro, based on Evofem’s current share price – a fraction of the $65,000 (€55,600) to which he is entitled in directors’ fees every year.

‘Not for profit’

The filings show that he must acquire the shares within 60 days of April 30th to avail of his stock options. His boardroom role gives up share-buying options of up to $450,000 in his first three years with the company.

A spokesman for the HSE last month defended Mr O’Brien’s description of Evofem as a “not for profit” company in a December 2017 letter to Department of Health secretary general Jim Breslin providing more details of the company he was joining, as requested by Mr Harris in a letter the previous June.

Mr O’Brien told Mr Breslin in his letter that, following a reverse merger into an existing public company, Evofem was expected to be listed on Nasdaq in the first quarter of 2018.

It became a stock market company in January 2018, the same month Mr O’Brien joined the board.