Friday 23 March 2018

Varadkar stands by O'Brien after HSE 'no vision' comment

Controversial comment: HSE chief Tony O’BrienT
Controversial comment: HSE chief Tony O’BrienT
Eilish O'Regan

Eilish O'Regan

Health Minister Leo Varadkar is standing by HSE chief Tony O'Brien after he said in an interview that the health service had been starved of meaningful investment and there was no vision for its future.

Mr O'Brien claimed a lack of funding had prevented him from carrying out medium to long-term planning for the health service.

Mr Varadkar, who has the power to hire and fire a director general of the HSE, said he agreed with a lot of the "valid points" made by Mr O'Brien.

The €185,000-a-year HSE chief has been the recipient of strongly worded behind-the scenes memos from the minister, the most recent of which was revealed in the Irish Independent when Mr Varadkar asked why health officials were not tackling the A&E trolley crisis "like a laser beam" as promised.

In an article headlined "HSE chief: no plan, no money and no vision for health", Mr O'Brien told 'The Sunday Business Post' that the health service has been on "death row" since 2011, when then Health Minister James Reilly vowed to dismantle the HSE.

Mr O'Brien said Ireland didn't have a single collective national understanding of what we wanted from healthcare, adding: "In the absence of a vision, how do you organise?"

But Mr Varadkar said yesterday: "If you read beyond the headline it's actually a very interesting interview in which he [Mr O'Brien] makes some very valid points, a lot of which I would agree with and many of which I have made myself."

Mr O'Brien was appointed as HSE director general in 2013 for a three-year term and previously said his job was to "wind it up".

But now the HSE was unclear when it would be subject to "execution", he said. It was probably going to be around for three or four more years.

He conceded the HSE was set up in a poor fashion and called for an increase in doctors' and managers' salaries. He insisted that at least 80pc of the health service was good or very good.

A HSE spokesman for Mr O'Brien said yesterday: "The comments given by the director general . . . were given by way of response to direct questions posed by the journalist concerned. Some commentators today have focused on the page one headline which is not attributed to the director general, without referring to what the director general actually said in the text of the article."

Irish Independent

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