Thursday 16 August 2018

HSE chief to leave post after six years

Tony O’Brien is stepping down after six years at the HSE
Tony O’Brien is stepping down after six years at the HSE
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Tony O'Brien, who is to leave his post as director general of the HSE this summer, was appointed six years ago to wind it up.

But, as he departs, the HSE remains intact, with the staunch pledge of the last government to "dismantle" it on hold for now.

Mr O'Brien, who is in his mid-50s, said he will not seek an extension of his €186,000-a-year contract when it expires in August.

He leaves behind a mixed legacy. But the greatest obstacle faced by the HSE remains its poor public image and an inability to win the faith of so many people since it was set up in 2005.

It is still seen by too many as overly bureaucratic, with too many well-paid managers.

Many regard it as unaccountable, despite several scandals. This accusation has been made even on some occasions when it was not always merited.

Mr O'Brien has struggled with squeezed budgets during the recession years, slowing the pace of progress in areas such as hospital care, with a serious impact on the trolley crisis and waiting lists.

At the same time he has battled with powerful health unions which are highly resistant to change .

His relationship with various health ministers has been turbulent at times. The most difficult was with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who as health minister warned in 2015 "heads will roll" if the A&E overcrowding was not sorted.

In a video message to staff yesterday, Mr O'Brien singled out improvements in stroke services, cardiac care, acute medicine and reinvestment in the ambulance service as highlights of his term.

He praised the work of staff during the snowstorm, saying it showed "HSE values for care and compassion in action".

Health Minister Simon Harris praised his "leadership and commitment to reform".

It's unclear if he would like to stay in management, but sources say he has expressed interest in joining the academic world of lecturing on leadership.

Irish Independent

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