Paul Reid stepping down as HSE chief as exodus of health officials continues

Chief executive tells Minister and board he is ‘making the decision with a heavy heart’

HSE chief executive Paul Reid is to step down from his position in December.

In a statement on Monday morning, Mr Reid said he informed the board, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly and the chair of the organisation that he was stepping down but has “no immediate career plans”.

The HSE said that Mr Reid told staff he is “making the decision with a heavy heart, and that it was the hardest decision he had ever made in relation to his own career”

“Having previously worked in the private, not for profit, central and local government sectors, working in the HSE has been by far the greatest period in my career. It has been truly rewarding leading an organisation whose staff come to work every day to make people’s lives better.”

He said his decision was influenced by two key factors: “A desire to spend more time with his family who had made many sacrifices to support him, and a belief that the HSE was entering a new phase and that the appointment of a new leader was now timely,” a HSE statement read.

Mr Reid, a former senior civil servant and head of Fingal County Council, was appointed as chief executive of the HSE in 2019 after months of unsuccessful efforts to fill the post left by Tony O’Brien, who stepped down as director general of the organisation during the CervicalCheck controversy.

An initial effort to find a new leader failed to find a successor to Mr O’Brien, which then came with a salary of around €250,000 annually. Mr Reid, who worked with Eircom as well as in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, was eventually hired on a salary of €370,136. With allowances of around €50,000, his total remuneration in 2020 was over €420,000 and €411,777 in 2021.

When he was appointed, then taoiseach Leo Varadkar spoke of a 10 year plan for the health service, naming executive director of Sláintecare Laura Magahy alongside Mr Reid as key people in implementing it. Ms Magahy stepped down last year, and now Mr Reid has indicated he will step aside two years before his term was due to expire.

His departure is the latest in a series of high-profile exits among those who stewarded the State’s response to the pandemic, and a wider changing of the guard in the senior ranks of the public service.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan and his deputy Dr Ronan Glynn have both resigned, with Dr Holohan entering his last week in post. Martin Fraser, the secretary general of the Department of the Taoiseach, has left his role and is moving to London as ambassador. Anne O’Connor, the chief operating officer of the HSE, has left for insurer VHI.

After less than a year in the job, the Covid-19 pandemic challenged the health service as never before, boosting Mr Reid’s profile and putting huge demands on his time - the ransomware cyberattack on the HSE in May 2021 added to that burden. However, in recent months as the pandemic threat moderated, predictable short term crises mixed with longer-term strategic challenges to the health service began to dominate healthcare politics in Ireland again.

Mr Reid has been at odds with Mr Donnelly over the case for closing the Emergency Department at Navan Hospital. The HSE and local management have faced enormous criticism over the state of EDs in some hospitals, with particular focus on University Hospital Limerick. As recently as last week, HSE managers were told by Mr Reid to control spending in the face of multiple demands on the public purse. The HSE was also criticised for its role in the controversy over prescribing practices in child and youth mental health services in Kerry.

In a statement on Monday morning, Mr Donnelly paid tribute to Mr Reid, saying he had provided “exemplary leadership to the HSE” and “led it “through some of its most difficult days and has done so with dedication and professionalism”.

“Throughout the pandemic, Paul played a critical role in leading Ireland’s response to the greatest health emergency of our times.”

Taoiseach Micheál Martin also paid tribute to Mr Reid, highlighting his “leadership of the HSE through an extraordinary number of years particularly during Covid-19, an unprecedented pandemic.”

He said Mr Reid texted him On Monday morning morning and they subsequently had a phone call.

When it was put to him that he had no advance notice of Mr Reid’s decision, Mr Martin said: “That is advance notice. People are entitled to make personal decisions with respect to their lives and careers.”

Mr Martin said: “I understand fully the reasons he has given are personal and again he’s not moving anywhere too fast.

“He’s here for the rest of the year work on a whole range of other issues.”

In his resignation statement, Mr Reid said: “No organisation will ever match the commitment, dedication and relentless willingness to go beyond the call of duty that I have witnessed as we battled multiple waves of Covid, a criminal cyber attack while driving a significant reform agenda. This has been truly inspirational for me to experience.”

HSE chairman Ciarán Devane said: “It is with very great regret that I and the board have heard of Paul’s decision. He has led the health service through what has been the greatest challenge it has ever faced, and done so with relentless dedication and professionalism. We are very grateful that he will stay in his role for a further period to allow us progress the extremely difficult task of replacing him.”

Mr Martin said there will be “proper procedure and process” to replace Mr Reid.

Asked if the Government was prepared to exceed the sum paid to Mr Reid to attract a candidate to the post Mr Martin said he has not gone into the details.

He said “the remuneration is significant... I don’t think that’s the issue.”

He added; “It is a very demanding job and there are huge pressures in the modern era, on people in the frontline, and respect of national organisations like the HSE.”

“I would be very concerned that we would do this properly and take time to recruit a top class replacement for Paul,” he said.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times