Saturday 18 November 2017

HSE board was urged to quit three weeks ago

Reilly says he has 'talked the talk' and will 'walk the walk' on reform

DETERMINED: Health Minister Dr James Reilly’s plan to appoint civil servants to the HSE board has raised concerns over its independence. Photo: Tom Burke
DETERMINED: Health Minister Dr James Reilly’s plan to appoint civil servants to the HSE board has raised concerns over its independence. Photo: Tom Burke
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

THE chairman of the Health Service Executive contacted his board of directors more than three weeks ago to ask if they would resign, paving the way for Health Minister James Reilly's much-flagged board clear-out last week.

Frank Dolphin telephoned the directors, asking each if they would be willing to step down, according to sources. Their agreement was then relayed back to the minister.

The choreography meant that Dr Reilly was able to implement his plan to abolish the board of the Health Service Executive with maximum effect in a "surprise" announcement last week.

It is understood that a number of directors offered to resign with immediate effect when first asked by Mr Dolphin and that at least one, Mr Eugene McCague, subsequently offered his resignation in writing to the minister.

Dr Reilly did not accept the resignations at that point, deciding instead to wait for the next scheduled board meeting last Thursday.

The directors were meeting to sign off on the HSE's annual accounts but, given the previous tic-tacking with their chairman, they expected to offer their resignations.

Nevertheless, Dr Reilly's appearance at the board meeting was a surprise.

In the ensuing widespread media coverage, the minister said he planned to enact legislation to abolish the HSE board for good later this year.

He said the resignations were an important part of the change agenda in the health service and did not reflect on individual board members, whom he thanked for their service.

Dr Reilly is expected to announce a new board within weeks, to which he will appoint senior civil servants, including the secretary-general of the Department of Health and HSE.

He said he wanted to be more responsible for health care, to have direct access to the top management of the HSE and department and to be accountable for his decisions to the Dail. The minister denied that clearing out the board was "optics".

"I didn't get into politics for spin or the appearance of changing things. I want real change. I am determined to make that change happen," he said.

"I know in the past I have had the opportunity to talk the talk and now I have the opportunity to walk the walk. And I will walk that walk."

However, one source said the decision to install health civil servants as directors "runs a coach and horses" through corporate governance, as it undermines the independence of the board.

It was pointed out that HSE was initially set up to be independent from political vested interests -- something that could now be reversed.

Billy Kelleher, Fianna Fail's health spokesman, said: "Will this be a board that is serving a political master? My biggest concern is what is its remit?"

The minister has asked Mr Dolphin to remain as chairman of the board during the interim period and Cathal Magee, the chief executive, will retain financial control.

The board members who resigned include Prof Niamh Brennan; Pat Farrell, chief executive of the Irish Banking Federation; Joe Mooney, a retired senior official from the Dept of Finance; Dr P Anne Scott, professor of nursing and deputy president of Dublin City University; Dr Dermot Power, a consultant; Sylda Langford, former director general of the Office of the Minister for Children; Joe Lavelle, manager with Deloitte; John Fitzgerald, former Dublin city manager; and Nuala Hunt, chartered accountant and tax consultant.

Sunday Independent

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