Former HSE director general Paul Reid complained to the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly that his officials were subjected to “inappropriate and highly personalised” comments at a meeting with Government backbenchers from Limerick.
Mr Reid also complained about “strong and uninhibited” language being directed at his senior managers at the unscheduled meeting, and questioned whether health officials should be required to attend briefings with TDs from Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael alone.
Writing to Mr Donnelly on June 29th last, Mr Reid said it had been formally raised with him that the meeting on the previous day had caused concern to HSE managers who attended.
The manner in which the meeting was scheduled and facilitated raised a number of issues, he said. “My office got notice from your office that myself and the COO (chief operating officer Damien McCallion) were asked to attend for 12.30 yesterday, in person, in the Department of Health to discuss EDs in general, ED in UHL (University Hospital Limerick) and waiting lists.” Mr McCallion was on leave and as Mr Reid was otherwise engaged, he sent over a delegation of senior managers.
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The HSE managers gave a brief update on waiting lists and were then asked to go to a meeting with “the Fine Gael parliamentary reps”, according to Mr Reid, in correspondence obtained under Freedom of Information legislation.
“This caused quite a surprise to them but they proceeded to the meeting room. When they got to the room there were a total of nine both Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael Oireachtas members from Limerick in attendance. The concerns raised to me was that there was strong and uninhibited language raised at the meeting addressed to the HSE team.”
Mr Reid expressed concern that senior public officials were being requested to attend a meeting, “the purpose of which turned out to be completely different than that set out in the original correspondence”.
“Perhaps there may have been a communications breakdown somewhere?” he asked. “Notwithstanding if there was a communications breakdown, I’m not certain that it is good practice or protocol for public officials to be brought to a meeting of TDs of some of the Government parties, who aren’t members of Government and if so it would usually be with TDs from all parties and this process would be cleared in advance.
“Whilst the HSE team are strong individuals and well experienced in meeting with Oireachtas members, it does seem that some of the comments made in the meeting were inappropriate and highly personalised.”
Mr Reid had earlier raised his concerns about the meeting with Department of Health secretary general Robert Watt. “We were given no notice that the delegation were to meet Oireachtas members at all,” he said. “I’m not sure where the communications fell down on this one, but it isn’t fair to walk a delegation into such a meeting without any notice and I’m not certain on the protocol of such a meeting either.”
Mr Watt said he knew nothing about the meeting but undertook to respond.
“Practice for some time is that officials should not be asked to attend meetings of TDs of government parties who are not members of the government and that briefings by officials should be on an all party basis and cleared by Sec Gens,” he told Mr Reid.