Paul Reid’s announcement he is leaving his role as Health Service Executive chief executive was preceded by fractious exchanges over the future of emergency services in Our Lady’s Hospital, Navan.
He said on Monday he was stepping down in December with a “heavy heart” in order to spend more time with his family.
While sources on all sides insisted his departure was not prompted by controversy over the plans to close Navan’s emergency department, The Irish Times has learned that teams from the HSE and the Department of Health clashed over the move. Mr Reid and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly were party to exchanges over the plan in the middle of last week, sources said.
Amid praise for Mr Reid’s stewardship of the HSE during the pandemic, there was widespread speculation that his departure was related to these issues, or to an interview he gave on Sunday defending the plan, but sources briefed on the HSE chief’s thinking insist that is not the case.
Nonetheless, the face-off now threatens to overshadow the last six months of his tenure. Mr Reid is understood to be firmly of the conviction that the plan should go ahead due to concerns about patient safety held by senior medics. But there are misgivings in Government over the capacity of nearby hospitals to handle patients coming from Navan.
Mr Donnelly sought a written note after meeting medics at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, which was received on Monday. Sources familiar with the contents said it outlined concerns that the extra patients would place that hospital’s emergency department under extra pressure and, without commensurate investment, was transferring risk from Navan to Drogheda.
HSE sources said they were well aware of the issues raised in Drogheda and insisted they would be addressed. They criticised what one said seemed to be a “politically inspired” move to “construct a selective case” that could frustrate the process.
A HSE spokeswoman said it had planned for the extra resources required, and was engaging through “established governance” structures. “It is now necessary that patients who are unstable or seriously ill are brought to the right hospital, first time, rather than to a hospital that cannot provide them with the urgent care they need, risking poor outcomes for these patients.”
Mr Reid joins other high-profile figures involved in the pandemic response who have stepped aside, including chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan and his deputy Dr Ronan Glynn, and HSE chief operating officer Anne O’Connor.
The Taoiseach led tributes to Mr Reid, highlighting his “leadership of the HSE through an extraordinary number of years, particularly during Covid-19″. Mr Donnelly praised his “exemplary leadership” and “dedication and professionalism”.