Hospital ‘must demonstrate accountability over private school vaccinations’

Hospital ‘must demonstrate accountability over private school vaccinations’

Beacon Hospital in Dublin. Coronavirus vaccine operations at the private hospital are to be suspended after it used spare doses to vaccinate teachers at a private school. Picture date: Sunday March 28, 2021.

A private hospital that used spare jabs to vaccinate teachers from an exclusive school must show accountability if it wants to protect its relationship with the state, Simon Coveney has warned.

Coronavirus vaccine operations at Dublin's Beacon Hospital have been suspended after it used 20 doses, which were left over after a daily vaccination session, to vaccinate some staff members at St Gerard's private school in Bray.

Amid a continuing public furore about the incident, the Foreign Affairs Minister made clear that individuals involved in the decision needed to be held to account by the hospital's board.

His comments came as HSE chief executive Paul Reid made clear there was "no rationale" for skipping over higher priority groups to vaccinate teachers.

Mr Reid said the actions of the Beacon had inflicted a "body blow" on all those involved in the vaccine rollout programme in Ireland.

The south Dublin hospital, which was administering vaccines as part of the state programme, has apologised for its decision, claiming it was made under "time pressure".

The hospital admitted the move was not in line with the HSE's sequencing guidelines.

The Beacon is a beneficiary of state contracts for outsourced medical services.

On Sunday, Mr Coveney stopped short of calling for the resignation of hospital chief executive Michael Cullen.

But, in an interview with RTÉ Radio One, he warned: "This is such a slap in the face to so many people and that's why people are so angry about this.

"So many families that have loved ones that are vulnerable to this virus patiently waiting for a vaccine seeing this story has generated an awful lot of anger.

"What I would say is I don't think it's a good precedent for a senior minister to be on the radio calling for someone to resign, but what I'd say is that I think the board of the Beacon hospital have a responsibility now to ensure that individuals are held to account but more importantly to protect the reputation not only of the Beacon Hospital Group but more importantly the credibility of the vaccine rollout programme.

"I do expect the board to ensure that that accountability is there in the decisions that they're going to make in the days ahead and I think that would be reflected across government."

He added: "We expect the board to ensure that there is full accountability in order to protect the Beacon Group's relationship with government and also the credibility of the vaccine rollout programme.

"I think what I'm saying is pretty clear in terms of what the board should be doing."

Mr Coveney said he agreed with Health Minister Stephen Donnelly's decision to suspend vaccine operations at the Beacon.

He said: "I think that is a fairly clear signal from government in terms of what we think of the decision-making processes here that have resulted in the Beacon not complying with the protocols that should be in place to ensure that if there are spare vaccines available at the end of the day, for whatever reason, that there is actually a list there for that excess vaccine that prioritises vulnerable people that need it, not private schools 14 kilometres away."

On Friday, Mr Donnelly initially ruled out suspending vaccinations at the Beacon, only to reverse that position a day later.

Mr Coveney moved to explain the change in position.

He said the Health Minister was initially focused on not disrupting the pace of the vaccine rollout but then, after further consideration and reflection on the public anger, decided the move was necessary to protect the reputation of the programme.

"I think Minister Donnelly made the right decision that actually protecting the reputation of the vaccine rollout programme and making it very clear that anybody who is responsible for rolling out vaccines to go beyond the protocols that should be there, and to essentially be giving vaccines to people who are not the next on the list in terms of vulnerability, is simply not acceptable and there are consequences to decisions like that," he said.

"The consequence is we're moving away from the Beacon Hospital Group in terms of vaccine rollouts."

Mr Coveney said vaccines that would have been administered at the hospital will now be given at mass centres at the Aviva Stadium or City West hotel.

Only already scheduled appointments will continue at the Beacon.

HSE boss Mr Reid said the Beacon had been given "very clear" guidelines on how to distribute spare vaccines.

"Ultimately this had caused a lot of reaction and anger and fury from the public and indeed from ourselves in the HSE," he told RTÉ.

Mr Reid said he became aware of the teacher vaccinations when the Beacon informed the HSE on Thursday.

"We immediately, and I certainly communicated that was a complete breach of any sequencing, of all of the processes, of all of the direction from ourselves," he said.

"And there was no rationale in which teachers could should have been vaccinated in this case."

The Beacon Hospital declined to comment further on the controversy on Sunday.

On the overall vaccine rollout, Mr Reid said Ireland had administered almost 800,000 doses by Sunday.

Around 570,000 of those were first doses, with the reminder second jabs.

He said 15% of the adult population had now received a first dose and 6% a second.

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