The Irish Times view on the Beacon hospital: an indefensible breach of trust

The debacle adds to the well-grounded impression that those who can afford it can play by different rules

This was not only a terrible misjudgement. It was also basic bad management from a hospital that was supposed to have a standby vaccination list in place. Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

This was not only a terrible misjudgement. It was also basic bad management from a hospital that was supposed to have a standby vaccination list in place. Photograph: Stephen Collins/Collins Photos

 

In numerical terms, in the context of a national vaccination programme in which almost 800,000 people have already received at least one jab against Covid-19, the 20 doses given by the Beacon hospital in Dublin to a school in Co Wicklow may be a drop in the ocean. But this is not at all about numbers.

The public uproar that has greeted the mystifying decision of a private, for-profit hospital to break with vaccination protocols and provide 20 vaccines to teachers at a private school attended by the chief executive’s children is more than justified. It adds to the well-grounded impression that in Irish society those who can afford it – whether through private education or private healthcare – can play by different rules to everyone else; that they inhabit a closed, self-perpetuating world that is designed primarily to look after its own.

Those involved saw nothing wrong with what they were doing because, for some, jumping the queue is a right to which they have become accustomed. Waiting for one’s turn is precisely the principle that a private hospital is designed to circumvent. That’s not a system malfunction – it’s Government policy.

Yet the injustice here is not abstract; it is painfully real. The State does not have a vaccine prioritisation list for the hell of it. It has one because, by looking after those most vulnerable to the worst effects of Covid-19 first, lives can be saved and serious illness averted. Twenty shots in the arms of healthy, relatively young people means 20 people who are older or suffering from chronic health conditions going without for longer.

More broadly, such a staggering error of judgment chips away at public trust and confidence in the vaccine campaign. Without that trust, simply put, the programme fails. It is a blow to the tens of thousands of people who have worked hard to procure vaccines for the State, to distribute them, to administer them and to run the complex system behind this national effort. It is a blow to the many hard-working staff, from clinicians to cleaners, at the Beacon hospital itself, who had joined that effort by helping to inoculate thousands of healthcare workers.

This was not only a terrible misjudgment, however. It was also basic bad management from a hospital that was supposed to have a standby vaccination list in place. After a derisory initial response from the Beacon, its board this evening announced an independent review and said its non-executive directors would consider the findings and take “any necessary actions”.

One does not need to be a code-breaker to grasp the message in Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney’s call for the hospital board to “ensure accountability”. For its part, the State has done what it can by suspending the Beacon’s role in the vaccination campaign. Its breach of trust warrants no less.

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