Wednesday 18 September 2019

Health officials issued diktat as tensions rise with minister

Jim Breslin. Picture: Tom Burke
Jim Breslin. Picture: Tom Burke
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Department of Health staff have been told to keep political advisers fully informed amid growing concern over the breakdown in relations between Health Minister Simon Harris and his officials.

In a diktat issued last week by the department's secretary general, Jim Breslin, staff were told it is "important" that "information is effectively shared" with advisers working for Mr Harris.

"Every effort should be made to keep advisers briefed on significant issues or matters that they may rise with individual units," said Mr Breslin.

"Having such good working arrangements in place also facilitates advisers informing staff concerned with different areas of responsibility of relevant developments."

Details of the internal memo, which has been seen by the Irish Independent, come as concerns grow over relations between senior Department of Health officials and Mr Harris.

A Department of Health spokesperson said "a number of such notices" have been issued in the past. "On foot of the recent change in the minister's advisers, the need arose to update and reissue the previous notice," she added.

The 'Sunday Independent' revealed there had been a breakdown of trust between Mr Harris and senior officials over the CervicalCheck scandal.

The minister rebuked officials during the controversy over their failure to fully inform him of details of the controversy that affected hundreds of women.

Relations were further strained when Mr Harris refused to publicly express confidence in senior health officials at the peak of the cancer scandal.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who served as health minister from 2014 to 2016, said trust has always been a "difficulty" between the officials in the HSE and politicians.

"I think most agencies accept it is their responsibility to come in on budget, for example. The HSE's practice for many years has been to pass the problem on to the department," he said.

"I think that's something that has to change. It certainly has to change now that we have a record budget for health and an extra €1bn next year."

Irish Independent

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