Donnelly says issues not raised with him before Sláintecare resignations

Róisín Shortall describes changes to oversight of universal health plan as a ‘hostile takeover’

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said that the frustrations of Sláintecare Implementation Advisory Council members Prof Tom Keane and Laura Magahy were not raised with him before their individual resignations. Video: Oireachtas TV

 

The Minister for Health has said frustrations were not raised with him by Prof Tom Keane or Laura Magahy before they resigned from their positions on the Sláintecare Implementation Advisory Council.

Stephen Donnelly told the Oireachtas health committee “the first I was aware” of either of the council members being frustrated was when they resigned.

Asked by Fine Gael TD Colm Burke if officials in his department were aware of their frustrations, he replied: “Neither raised the issues with me (or) sought a meeting with me… I can’t speak for what other people may know”, but that if they did know he had “received no such advice”.

However, Mr Donnelly later said on several occasions that Ms Magahy had expressed frustrations to him during meetings. It is understood that Ms Magahy raised a range of issues causing frustration but he never formed the impression that it would lead to a resignation.

The committee has provisionally identified October 20th as a date to speak with Ms Magahy and Prof Keane, and there is an open invite to both. Committee members believe they may have been waiting to see Wednesday’s evidence before proceeding.

Mr Donnelly said there was resistance to change in the health service, and that in his view “there’s always resistance to big ambitious change”.

Earlier in the session, Department of Health secretary general Robert Watt dismissed as “nonsense” the suggestion of institutionalised resistance to change in the department.

Later, Mr Watt confirmed to Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall that he was informed of Ms Magahy’s intent to resign the week before it was made public, but he did not pass it on to Mr Donnelly as she indicated she wanted to discuss it with him directly and Mr Watt wanted to respect that.

New taskforce

Mr Donnelly told the committee that a new programme board for Sláintecare is to be put in place, co-chaired by the most senior civil servant in his department and the HSE chief executive Paul Reid.

He told the committee that 109 of 112 “deliverables” were on track under the implementation plan for Sláintecare. He cited investment of more than €1.2 billion in the budget for this year as allowing increases in capacity, including the addition of 850 permanent beds to the hospital system, which he said is the equivalent of two medium sized hospitals.

Ms Shortall described the reforms to the oversight of Sláintecare as a “hostile takeover”, saying that there is an attempt to “suffocate” it.

Mr Donnelly said that he, Mr Watt and Mr Reid would be driving the reform project, but Ms Shortall said the department and the HSE had been given responsibility for their own reform.

“You’re absolutely going against the intention of Sláintecare as the democratic decision of the Dáil,” she said.

Mr Watt said it was “nonsense” to suggest there was “some vast, shadowy conspiracy” going on. He also praised Mr Reid, who he said is “one of the most impressive public servants this country has ever produced”.

Mr Burke, Fine Gael TD for Cork North Central, said the concerns raised and resignations “didn’t happen overnight, this obviously was an ongoing issue”.

Mr Donnelly said he was “somewhat puzzled by” the reasons offered by Prof Keane, the chair of the council, in his resignation letter, which suggested that the environment he faced was such that change was impossible.

Mr Watt told Sinn Féin health spokesman David Cullinane there was not disagreement with Ms Magahy on policy options relating to regionalisation of the health service.

He said there was no “settled view” within the department on the specific policy option to be taken, and no differences of opinion. Mr Cullinane said this was “hard to comprehend” given the resignations which followed.

Mr Watt said there may have been issues on “how quickly we do it, and whether it’s appropriate for us to push ahead”.