No ‘suitably qualified’ candidate for chief medical officer position found during interview process

Other key medical posts remains unfilled

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly recommended appointing Prof Mary Horgan as interim chief medical officer without interview after the recruitment process for chief medical officer did not identify a 'suitably qualified' candidate. Photograph: Stephen Collins /Collins Photos

The Department of Health was unable to find a “suitably qualified” candidate to become chief medical officer during the interview process for the position.

As a result, Prof Mary Horgan was appointed interim chief medical officer (CMO) without interview, following a recommendation from Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly.

Former CMO Prof Breda Smyth left the position just 18 months after becoming the country’s most senior health adviser.

Months before she formally submitted her resignation, she warned of the impact difficulties in recruiting deputy chief medical officers was having on the work of office.


Last year, an advertisement seeking expressions of interest within the Health Service Executive for the vacant deputy CMO posts yielded no applications.

Prof Smyth warned the situation was unsustainable, and that the inability to recruit for these positions created a clinical risk.

In response to questions about the recruitment for the CMO position, a spokesman for the Department of Health said the competition for the position was advertised in March 2024 and was managed through the Public Appointments Service.

“However, the process did not identify a suitably qualified candidate,” the spokesman said.

The spokesman said Prof Horgan was “appointed to the position of interim CMO following the recommendation of the Minister of Health in accordance with section 7(1)(f) of the Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) Act 2004″. This was approved by Government on June 11th.

The spokesman added that the competition for deputy CMO is “currently ongoing”.

The department has suffered an exodus of senior staff since the end of the pandemic. Key medical posts have been left unfilled, despite the gaps in Ireland’s pandemic preparedness exposed by Covid-19.

Prof Smyth was appointed acting chief medical officer at the Department of Health in July 2022, taking over from Dr Tony Holohan, who spent 14 years in the role. In November 2022, she was permanently appointed to the post, and she vacated it at the end of May 2024 to take up a new role with the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin.

Prof Horgan was announced as interim CMO in early June. Having qualified in medicine in 1995, Prof Horgan is Professor of Infectious Diseases at University College Dublin and the Mater Misericordiae Hospital.

Previously Dean of the Medical School in University College Cork (UCC), she was elected as the first female president of the Royal College of Physicians since its founding in 1654 and was re-elected to serve her second term in 2020.

The CMO reports directly to department secretary general Robert Watt and serves as “an integral member of the senior management team”, the Department of Health said.

The salary range for a CMO is from €217,325 to €261,051, according to the job advertisement shared following Prof Smyth’s departure.

It described the position as a pivotal and influential one that has a leading role shaping national policy and services.

Meanwhile, the job specification of the deputy CMO post advertised last year said the role includes ensuring “robust mechanisms are in place to identify emerging threats in communicable and noncommunicable disease”.

According to the 2023 job advertisement, the salary scale for the deputy CMO ranges from €113,684 to €139,142. However, the Department of Health recently stated the Department of Public Expenditure agreed to a revision of the existing DCMO pay scale, and this revised scale is being used in the current competition to fill the position.

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is Health Correspondent of The Irish Times