Minister warned of risk not filling posts on blood transfusion board

 

A failure to fill vacancies on the board of the Irish Blood Transfusion Service (IBTS) is exposing the organisation to “unacceptable risk”, its outgoing chairwoman has warned Minister for Health James Reilly.

In a letter to the Minister Katharine Bulbulia expressed concern over vacancies on the board, describing them as unhealthy for corporate governance at a “highly sensitive” health service organisation.

The problem of vacant board positions in organisations under Dr Reilly’s control is not confined to the blood service; a recent parliamentary answer from the Minister reveals there are currently 117 vacancies on State boards in the health area.

The letter from Ms Bulbulia, which has been obtained by The Irish Times, dates back to last May when she was about to finish a 2½-year term as chairwoman of the service. However, six of the nine vacancies which are the subject of the letter remain unfilled six months later.

Nine of the 12 members of the board were due to complete their stints at the end of May. Ms Bulbulia warned that if all left at the same time this would represent “the most significant loss of corporate memory” at a time of great challenge.

Ms Bulbulia, a former Fine Gael senator, said all members of the finance committee and two members of the audit and compliance committee, including the chair, were due to leave.

In the 1980s and 1990s the blood service was at the centre of major scandals involving infected blood products.

The vacancies were advertised through the Public Appointments Service in April. Dr Reilly says he is considering the applications received.

At the top of the Department of Health and the HSE, Dr Reilly has hand-picked new appointees, but many board positions remain unfilled months after vacancies arise.

At the Health Information and Quality Authority, which has just begun a potentially controversial investigation into the death of Savita Halappanavar, four board seats remain unfilled since last May. Since early September there are no fewer than seven vacancies on the hepatitis C and HIV compensation tribunal.

There are five vacancies on the Health Research Board, six on the Food Safety Authority of Ireland, one on the VHI, one on the Opticians Board and two on the Health and Social Care Professionals Board. The 17-member board of the Pre-Hospital Emergency Care Council has been waiting to be replaced since June, and the 22-member Nursing and Midwifery Board has been due a new inflow of members since last month.