INDEPENDENT Senator John Crown has told the Seanad that “women died” as a result of a drugs trial at St Vincent's Private hospital being shut down.
He was speaking in the Seanad for the second day in a row about how the VHI was wrongly billed €1m by St Vincent’s private hospital for drugs that had been provided for free as part of a breast cancer trial.
Professor Crown, who is a consultant oncologist in St Vincent’s, told the Seanad that the only defence the hospital could attempt was the “absurd notion” that they did not know their research programme existed.
He said that as a result of the hospital’s action, the research programme was closed down for a year.
“Women were denied access to a drug ‘herceptin’ which we now know was lifesaving. Though it was not the intention of the fraudsters or those who attempted the cover up, as an indirect result of their actions women died,” he said.
Herceptin is the brand name of a medicine called trastuzumab. It can stop the growth of breast cancer and sometimes reduce the size of the tumour.
Professor Crown said that his hospital its management and its board failed the women involved in the breast cancer drug treatment trials.
“Justice must be done,” he said.
The drugs were supplied to St Vincent's private hospital free of charge by pharmaceutical companies to women who were undergoing treatment for breast cancer at the hospital at the time. The VHI has confirmed it was informed of the wrongful billing by a patient and by Professor Crown.
Professor Crown told the Seanad that in September 2002, a member of the administration in St Vincents Private Hospital told him the hospital had been billing VHI and other insurers for drugs which had been provided for free for research.
“In the letter he stated that this was inadvertent and invited me to join with the hospital in making a joint approach to the insurers,” he said.
However, Professor Crown said other documents were provided to him which showed that this was untrue, that the billing was deliberate, and only ceased when the VHI found out.
“Incidentally they found out from me,” he said.
Earlier, Professor Crown told the Seanad that a large amount of public money –probably tens or hundreds of thousands of euro- was spent by a body in pursuit of a cover up of financial fraud.
“And of course this was in St Vincent’s hospital group ten years ago, when a large amount of public money was spent trying to defend the absurd contention that the hospital wasn’t aware that a very large research programme existed, as it was the only way they could justify a very substantial and deliberate misspending, misbilling, of money from the voluntary health insurers,” he said.
Professor Crown was speaking during the Seanad’s consideration of the Local Government bill, which will abolish 80 town councils. He complained that there had been no councillors on the board of St Vincent’s hospital group. Professor Crown’s remarks are protected by parliamentary privilege.
Michael Brennan Deputy Political Editor