Prof Breda Smyth appointed State’s chief medical officer

Donnelly says public health specialist brings ‘considerable experience and excellent leadership ability’ to role

Prof Breda Smyth has been announced as chief medical officer (CMO) at the Department of Health by Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly.

Prof Smyth has served in the position in an acting capacity since July when she took over as interim chief medical officer following Dr Tony Holohan’s retirement after 14 years in the role.

A public health specialist for 16 years, Prof Smyth was previously a professor of public health medicine at NUI Galway and a public health consultant in the HSE’s western division.

During the Covid-19 pandemic Prof Smyth sat on the National Public Health Emergency Team and the expert advisory group that examined the use of rapid antigen tests.

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She was a founding member of Covid-19 epidemiology modelling advisory group that advised Nphet on the trajectory of the virus during the 30-month pandemic.

Prof Smyth made occasional appearances as a medical expert offering health advice to the public on Covid-19 during Nphet’s regular televised press briefings from the department.

Her appointment to the high-profile role of CMO follows an open competition for the job through the Top-Level Appointment Commission, the public body that recommends candidates to Ministers and Government for the most senior positions in the Civil Service.

She joins the department on a three-year secondment from her position at the HSE.

Mr Donnelly said Prof Smyth’s “considerable experience, excellent leadership ability and extensive public health skill set” would be “a valuable asset” to the department.

“The pandemic has placed a renewed spotlight on the importance of public health in our health and social care services,” said the Minister.

“I very much look forward to working with Breda as we build on this important work and continue to facilitate increased access to the health service, as well as the quality of that service.”

Prof Smyth said her appointment was a “very proud day for me and my family”.

She said she looked forward to working with colleagues at the department and across health and social care “to promote and protect public health and the health and wellbeing of the population of Ireland.”

Prof Smyth said that as chief medical officer she would have a primary role in implementing cross-Government initiatives like Healthy Ireland, a plan to encourage healthier living, and Sláintecare, the Government’s long-term plan to overhaul health and care services.

“I am keen to use my term as chief medical officer to support greater engagement with marginalised groups in society and address inequities in health by supporting the department’s work in improving the affordability and quality of our health service,” she said.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is The Irish Times’s Public Affairs Editor and former Washington correspondent