Professor John Crown is a walking, talking example of how the Senate can be used to expose the things that are wrong with Irish society. Yesterday, using parliamentary privilege, Crown informed the House of his belief that the management of St Vincent’s hospital defrauded the government in 2002, subsequently spent a fortune on a cover-up and intimidated staff members who might be likely to expose what went on.
The fraud was simple: some cancer patients who were insured with VHI agreed to take part in clinical trials of new drugs. Such trials are subject to strict EU rules: doctors conducting the tests are not paid for the work, and the drugs are provided to the hospital free of charge, clearly marked as experimental. Nevertheless, St Vincents charged the VHI and other insurers €1 million for the drugs and the clinical treatment. (The State owns VHI in its entirety).
According to John Crown, consultant oncologist at the hospital and also a senator, he has come into possession of certain documents which he believes prove that a cover-up occurred. Crown first notified the Irish Medicines Board of his suspicions in 2002 and says that, although an investigation began, it was almost immediately stopped and “reformatted”, by which he presumably means given new terms of reference. In addition, he claims that substantial intimidation was brought to bear, again, presumably against himself as the whistle-blower, and against whatever other staff provided him with information.
Two questions arise from this. Firstly, who applied pressure to the statutory body responsible for regulation of medicines in Ireland? And secondly, who within the Irish Medicines Board acceded to that pressure and called off the investigation?
Where have we seen this sort of thing before?
Just replace St Vincent’s with Anglo-Irish Bank and replace IMB with Financial Regulator.
Light-touch regulation as practised at the 19th hole.
Of course, the dust from the CRC scandal hasn’t settled, and we’re still paying the costs of the Residential Institutions Redress Board, so let me ask you this: what do all these things have in common?
The answer is simple enough — they all arose from privately-owned institutions that were somehow afforded a status equivalent to State bodies. The exchequer pays all the costs of St Vincent’s which is owned by an order of nuns, it pays all the salaries of the CRC and most of their running costs, it’s paying €1.4 billion in compensation to the victims of the religious orders in the residential institutions while the orders themselves have not yet paid a cent.
Why are essential services in the control of private charities and of religious bodies when we, the taxpayers, fund them in their entirety? Some will tell you that it came about because the State was unwilling to fund the services and so the religious orders had to step in. This is nonsense. What it was really about it this: the churches wanted control of healthcare for ideological reasons, and the State, in the person of its ministers, was too obsequious and grovelling to face them down. That’s why religious orders and other private companies own our healthcare facilities even though we pay for the whole lot. And that’s why they can give us two fingers when we ask them for information about how our money is spent.
I might just remind you that the management of St Vincent’s hospital in the last few days refused to disclose to the Public Accounts Committee what top-ups its senior executives receive and from what sources those top-ups come.
Let’s be grateful we have people like John Crown to ask the hard questions.