Three employees, two from the publicly-funded St Vincent’s University Hospital and one at the private Beacon Hospital, are on paid leave since allegations about their dealings with Eurosurgical medical supplies were revealed in an RTÉ Prime Time investigation.
However, Health Minister Leo Varadkar has confirmed that he received a dossier on seven hospitals last year, excluding one highlighted by Prime Time, and that he shared it with the minister for justice, HSE, and gardaí.
He said the allegations in it were worse than those aired on RTÉ, a view backed by Emmet Stagg, the TD approached by an individual to bring the matter to the attention of the authorities.
“They were very serious,” said Mr Stagg, who alerted Mr Varadkar. It is understood they mention foreign holidays and cars.
Yet an internal HSE audit of the publicly-funded hospitals found no evidence of wrongdoing. The health minister said the HSE would now revisit those audits.
The Garda Bureau of Fraud Investigation meanwhile confirmed that they “are and have been carrying out inquiries in relation to procurement practices at Irish hospitals”.
However, St Vincent’s Healthcare Group, which includes St Vincent’s University Hospital and St Vincent’s Private Hospital, the latter named by the minister yesterday as one of those in last year’s dossier, said it was not made aware of any issue at the hospital or that there was a Garda inquiry.
“Neither the Department of Heath, nor the HSE, nor the Garda Fraud Bureau sought to engage with SVPH, or the wider group, at any stage about this,” it said.
It said it would now thoroughly investigate all the allegations. Beacon Hospital also said it was carrying out its own investigation.
The other hospitals are not named but are believed not to be confined to Dublin. On the supply side, it is believed the allegations are confined to Eurosurgical alone.
The HSE has ordered that all payments due to Eurosurgical by any HSE or HSE-funded facility be suspended — a disastrous move for the company and its 35 staff.
A company statement said: “Eurosurgical have always behaved ethically and will continue to do so.”
It said it was taking legal advice but would fully co-operate with all inquiries.
Two Oireachtas committees are also to probe the claims, the Joint Health Committee asking senior officials from St Vincent’s and Beacon Hospital and from the HSE to appear before it next Tuesday.
John McGuinness, chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, said it would be calling the CEO of the HSE and the secretary general of the Department of Health before it in the near future.
Among the claims in the Prime Time programme were that Eurosurgical paid for holidays for members of hospital staff who were in charge of purchasing, that Eurosurgical was given details of the prices its competitors were charging, and that the company secured contracts to supply some goods and repair services at prices in excess of what existing suppliers charged.
Mr Varadkar said of the claims: “It’s very disappointing that anybody working in the health service should behave in such a way — a way that’s unethical and brazen and driven by greed.”