HSE didn't ask €3.3 million sanitiser supplier if its product was legal until after ViraPro scandal

It took the recall of the toxic ViraPro hand sanitiser for the HSE to ask another sanitiser supplier whether its product was lawful to distribute in Ireland.

The supplier, hair-loss shampoo company Shamazen, had in August 2020 sold the HSE more than €3 million worth of sanitiser, which the Department of Agriculture has refused to register for use in Ireland. All sanitisers need to be registered by the department – distributing unregistered sanitisers is a criminal offence.

According to records seen by The Ditch, the HSE didn’t ask for the product’s registration details until October of that year, three months after delivery of the €3.3 million unusable sanitiser. The HSE’s request came days after ViraPro sanitiser was recalled for containing methanol and was delivered with some urgency: “Can you revert asap… showing product is registered,” read one email from an HSE procurement official to the hair loss shampoo supplier.

Having already advised the HSE in early October to take ViraPro out of circulation, the Department of Agriculture on 22 October removed the product from its approved register. The following day the HSE recalled ViraPro.

A week later, HSE procurement specialist Anne-Louise Neenan emailed Paul McGuinness, whose company Shamazen had sold the executive €3.3 million worth of sanitiser three months previous, telling him the HSE now needed registration details.

Neenan wrote that her team, which specialises in sanitiser procurement, had been made aware that the products need to be registered by law.

'It has been brought to our attention'

“It has been brought to our attention by Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine (DAFM) that… Human hygiene biocidal products (PT 1) such as hand sanitiser and other disinfectants are considered biocidal products and must by law be registered with DAFM prior to making them available on the market and using them in Ireland,” read the email.

For the product to be approved, it would need a Pesticide Control Service (PCS) number from the department. Nennan went on to request McGuinness “revert asap with PCS numbers and screen shot of Biocidal register showing product is registered”.

Neenan warned McGuinness if the products weren’t registered, the HSE needed to be informed immediately and that McGuinness should “either contact the DAFM to commence registration process (and send us proof of doing so) or organise uplift and reimbursement for remaining product in stock”.

Records seen by The Ditch show that as recently as last August the HSE contacted both the department and McGuinness to enquire about the product’s authorisation application. The department was however not in a position to register the product as its ethanol base was not listed on the appropriate EU register.

Last week HSE official John Swords told the Public Accounts Committee the hand sanitiser sold by McGuinness to the HSE had been “quarantined”. Swords told Sinn Féin TD Imelda Muster there were no other unusable hand sanitiser stockpiles purchased without due diligence.

Partially redacted records seen by The Ditch however indicate there are at least 28 other hand sanitiser products held in quarantine by the HSE at a warehouse in Tipperary.

Some of these products will be destroyed for not being legally approved by the Department of Agriculture. “All unknown brands will be identified and if they have PCS numbers we will use. If they don't we will have to look at disposing according to the regulations,” wrote Anne-Louise Neenan to the department in April of this year.

By time of publication, the HSE had failed to comment on whether it was aware prior to the ViraPro recall that hand sanitiser products had to be authorised for use by the Department of Agriculture.

D. Goodman

D. Goodman