CABINET members found out about potential breaches of a Covid vaccination appointment system through the Press, even though their chief executive knew 10 days earlier.
The startling rift in communication between Denbighshire council’s elected leaders and the authority’s chief executive were highlighted in a fractious full council meeting on Tuesday.
The council has been at the centre of a controversy over emails, containing instructions for booking Covid vaccination appointments, potentially being shared by staff.
The authority maintains it does not believe anyone who was not entitled has managed to get a jab, but an internal investigation is underway and staff received an email warning them against abusing the system.
Betsi Cadwaladr chairman Mark Polin last week criticised anyone trying to “queue jump”, saying they were “potentially” depriving people in the four main priority groups of a vaccination.
At the full council meeting, Cllr Emrys Wynne (Ruthin ward) asked why councillors weren’t told about the “glitch” before it broke in the Press.
The authority’s elected Leader Cllr Huw Evans confirmed council members, including the cabinet, had been blindsided by the story.
He said only the council’s officers were “familiar with the situation” prior to press stories circulating.
He said two special meetings were then called by the elected cabinet this weekend, the second with officers involved, to “try and understand what was happening” around the issue.
Cllr Evans said: “It’s important to note, while things are highlighted in the Press, it’s important that we as officers and members are familiar with all the facts before we take any action or have a position on it.”
He said responding to Press reports of a council issue cabinet members had no prior knowledge of was “not an ideal way” to reach a conclusion on an issue.
Chief executive Judith Greenhalgh said the council had submitted a list of staff eligible for the vaccine to Betsi Cadwaldr health board and they were sent an email inviting them to book an appointment with vaccination teams.
She explained it became apparent that if someone forwarded the email, a glitch in Betsi Cadwaladr’s booking system meant it “may have allowed non-eligible staff” to book an appointment.
An email was sent around warning people not to abuse the system and an investigation started into “what action has been taken, if any, amongst these staff”.
“I just need to emphasise to you, at this moment in time there’s no evidence staff have used the email loophole to obtain a vaccination.
“I have the utmost confidence in their integrity and their honesty and sincerely believe if anybody has taken any action that was inappropriate it would be a very, very small number of staff.”
She assured members anyone found to have taken “inappropriate action” to try and obtain a vaccine would face disciplinary action.
However, Ms Greehalgh, pressed by Cllr Wynne, admitted she and other officers knew about the potential problems on January 14 – 10 days before cabinet members read about it in the Press.
“It was at that stage we sent the email to all staff and it was then we started the investigation.
“I presume the press picked up on it subsequent from that, but then it’s taken them some time to concoct the story they did.”