Simon Harris to restart recruitment drive for new head of HSE

High-profile process fails to find successor to Tony O’Brien for €250,000 health role

Minister for Health Simon Harris has been forced to return to the drawing board after a high-profile recruitment campaign failed to find a successor to Health Service Executive boss Tony O'Brien.

Mr Harris insisted last night the process of appointing a new chief executive to the HSE was continuing but admitted a “revised process” is being drawn up to find a suitable candidate for the €250,000-a-year post.

At least two of those shortlisted for the post for director general have been told they were unsuccessful and acting head John Connaghan is expected to be asked to stay on in the interim post for a period, according to health sources.

Continuing controversy in the health service, particularly over CervicalCheck, and salary issues were important factors in deterring many potential candidates in the UK from applying, they say.


The publication of the Scally report into the cervical screening controversy last month, in the middle of the recruitment campaign, was seen as unfortunate in terms of timing, sources indicate.

Cost of living

And although the Government had agreed to increase the salary attaching to the post to €250,000, higher taxation rates and the higher cost of living in Ireland mean the package on offer would be inferior to that enjoyed by a typical boss of a medium-sized national health service trust in the UK.

However, the Government has little leeway to further increase the salary on offer, given the industrial relations difficulties this would pose in the wider public service.

Mr Harris said the process to select a new chief executive for the HSE “has not yet concluded successfully”.

He added: “It remains the Minister’s objective to identify and appoint a CEO with all of the required skills as soon as possible and a revised process to do so is currently being finalised.”

The HSE referred queries about the job to the Department of Health.

CervicalCheck controversy

Mr O’Brien stepped down early last May at the height of the CervicalCheck controversy and the post was advertised the following month.

The chief executive, when appointed, will operate under the direction of an independent board, under legislation currently before the Oireachtas.

Former National Health Service England board member and chief executive of the British Council Ciaran Devane was appointed chairman of this independent board in October and expressions of interest have been sought for other board members. Two patient advocates will sit on the board.

“The passing of this legislation and finalisation of the membership of the board based upon competency will allow it to come into operation in the new year,” Mr Harris said.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is a former heath editor of The Irish Times.