Rotunda Hospital fast-tracks ratification of Prof Sean Daly as new master

TCD obstetrics professor criticises gender imbalance in interview process

The Rotunda Hospital has fast-tracked the ratification of Prof Sean Daly as its new master following controversy over the appointment process.

While the hospital’s board of governors normally take months to approve the decisions of the interview panel, on this occasion it reached a decision less than a week after the three shortlisted candidates were interviewed.

A meeting of the board last Thursday unanimously decided to immediately ratify the recommendation of the interview panel, the hospital said on Sunday.

That decision, in which Prof Daly was selected ahead of two female obstetricians of professorial rank, has been criticised after it emerged the interview panel comprised nine men, three women and one female HR manager who was not involved in marking the candidates.

The panel included the current master, Prof Fergal Malone, who is a business partner of Prof Daly in a private antenatal clinic.

In a statement, the Rotunda described the process for the appointment of master as “rigorous” and said the recommendation had come from a “diverse and appropriately qualified” panel, working to public service codes of practice, that interview three “superb” candidates.

The decision to ratify Prof Daly’s appointment was taken after a “comprehensive review” of the process and after the board had satisfied itself that the law on public service appointments had been fully adhered to.

Feedback

“The Board also noted the media commentary around this recruitment process and, as with all of its senior appointments, will use this feedback and any learnings to further improve the hospital’s recruitment and selection process, with the objective of continuing to attract and retain the most highly qualified candidates to ensure the provision of the highest level of care to mothers and their babies.”

Prof Daly, who joined the Rotunda from the Coombe women’s hospital, will next January become the first person to serve as master to two of Dublin’s maternity hospitals.

Trinity College Dublin’s head of obstetrics had questioned why a gender-balanced interview panel could not have been set up to pick the next master of the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin.

Professor Deirdre Murphy joined a number of senior medics who have criticised the process around the appointment of the new master of the maternity hospital after it emerged that a panel of nine men and four women, including a non-voting HR manager, picked the new chief.

“The board of the Rotunda Hospital has nine women members, two of whom are councillors, one the Lord Mayor Dublin,” Prof Murphy told The Irish Times.

“It seems hard to believe that they could not provide a gender-balanced appointment panel for the Master/CEO position, the single most important appointment they are tasked with making every seven years.”

The Rotunda, the oldest maternity hospital in the world, has not had a female master in its 277-year history. Prof Daly’s selection brought public expressions of disappointment on social media from the two unsuccessful female candidates.

Prof Murphy, a consultant at the Coombe, criticised the message that was being sent out that a gender-balanced interview panel had not been established for the maternity hospital’s top job.

“As a medical professor, teaching and training the next generation of consultants and healthcare leaders, many of whom are women, I would ask what sort of an example our generation is setting?” she said.

Diary clashes

Lord Mayor of Dublin Alison Gilliland, a member of the Rotunda's board of governors, said she has been unable to attend any of the hospital's board meetings due to "diary clashes" and so was unable to comment on the specifics of the interview board.

"I would like to think that all organisations, whether public or private, should be fully conscious of gender balance and ensure that their interview boards and selection panels reflect such balance in practice," said the Labour Party councillor.

“I have always found that, regardless of the sector, when you purposefully look for women for seminar presentations, panel discussions, chairing roles or interview boards, you will find many to choose from.”

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly said there needed to be fundamental change to ensure there were gender-balanced interview panels more generally across the public and private sectors.

Prof Murphy has also questioned whether the participation of outgoing master Prof Fergal Malone in the interview panel amounted to a conflict of interest given that he and Prof Daly work in a private practice in the Evie Clinic in the Beacon Hospital in Sandyford, south Dublin.

Asked whether Prof Malone declared this connection and recused himself from the appointment panel over it, a spokesman for the Rotunda said: “The provisions of the Public Service Management (Recruitment and Appointments) Act 2004 were fully adhered to including the appropriate declaration and management of any conflicts of interests.”

Prof Murphy said she applied for the post of Master at the Coombe in 2019 but decided to withdraw on the day of her interview because of her concerns around what she claimed were conflicts of interest on the appointment panel and an “inherently flawed” recruitment process.

She said she raised her concerns about the Coombe's process to the secretary general of the Department of Health, the chief executive of the Dublin Midlands Hospital Group, the president of the Irish Medical Council and a university president.

“At least two of the Dublin Maternity Hospitals appear to have difficulty in comprehending the concept of fair recruitment processes,” she said.

A spokesman for the Coombe declined to comment on her criticisms of the 2019 process.