THE €160,000-a-year adviser to the special Department of Health unit set up to tackle hospital patient delays failed to attend the majority of Health Service Executive (HSE) board meetings last year, the Irish Independent has learned.
Dr Martin Connor, adviser to the Special Delivery Unit, was appointed to the interim board of the HSE by Health Minister James Reilly last June. But he did not attend six of the 10 meetings held up to the middle of January -- missing crucial decision-making sessions.
He was replaced last month by Tony O'Brien, chief operating officer of the Special Delivery Unit.
Attendance is not mandatory and the board has no direct control over the Special Delivery Unit, which is based in the Department of Health.
Dr Connor retains his position as a special adviser despite spending half of every month in California, where he is doing research at Stanford University.
The Manchester native is a former NHS manager.
An analysis by the Irish Independent showed Dr Connor, who has a PhD in Philosophy, missed important meetings in November and December last year as A&E units were braced for a surge in trolley numbers.
Most of the meetings were held at 8.30am, which would be past midnight in San Francisco, making teleconferencing impractical.
Although Dr Connor is described as a Harkness Fellow on the Stanford University website, this fellowship ended in July last year.
The fellowship, which involves academic financial aid, is sponsored by the Commonwealth Fund.
His area of study was integrated care and delivery system reform, which involves the reorganisation of hospitals' work to improve efficiency.
Dr Connor stepped from his fellowship to the Special Delivery Unit adviser job, earning €90,000 for his work from June to November.
He was retained on a €480,000 three-year contract, worth €160,000 annually, last December.
He was absent for meetings where discussions included:
• The capital plan for emergency department projects in Wexford and Kilkenny.
• The once-off funding of €3m given to the worst eight hospitals for trolley waits, facing the worst months for overcrowding.
• The overhaul of management arrangements at University College Hospital Galway and Limerick Regional Hospital.
• Correspondence with Dr Reilly in relation to the Special Delivery Unit's report diagnosing performance at Limerick Regional Hospital.
A spokesman for Dr Connor said all material relating to board meetings had been provided to Dr Connor and that he also held discussions with other board members while he was in Dublin.
He said the fact that Dr Connor was doing research in Stanford was beneficial to the Irish health service and should not be seen negatively.