Sláintecare advisory group to be restructured following resignations

Doran says new group will focus on regionalstructures but asks who will oversee reforms

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly is also planning a new taskforce to try and tackle waiting lists. Photograph: Collins

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly is also planning a new taskforce to try and tackle waiting lists. Photograph: Collins

 

The Sláintecare Implementation Advisory Council is to be restructured following a series of recent resignations, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said.

One of the out-going membes of the council, former trade union leader Liam Doran, said on Sunday that the Minister’s plan for a new group to focus on planned regional health structures was not in keeping with the vision ofthe original blueprint for the Sláintecare health service reforms.

Mr Doran asked what measures wouldbe put in place by the Minister to ensure oversight of the overall Sláintecare project.

He said the Sláintecare Implementation Advisory Council was no more and that he was “disappointed but not surpised” at the move.

The term of office of the council was due to expire later this month but a number of members had sought an extension until the end of the year to deal with the controversy surrounding the sudden resignations of council chairman Prof Tom Keane and Sláintecare office executive director Laura Magahy last month.

Another member of the council Prof Anthony O’Connor resigned last week.

In a letter on Saturday night to the remaining members of the council Mr Donnelly said recent events have “cast a shadow over the real progress that has been made”.

Mr Donnelly said as the Council was due to expire this month (on the 24th), he now plans to create a new group to advise his department on regional health areas which were due to be established under the Sláintecare plan.

He said while considerable work has been done in drafting proposals on regional health areas “I believe we need a new group that can advise and test what is being proposed”.

The Minister said that some members of the original Sláintecare Implementation Advisory Council had agreed to serve on the new group that he is to establish.

Mr Doran said he was not asked to participate. He said he welcomed that frontline health workers would be among those taking part in the new group.

Mr Doran said he hoped recent criticism by members of the Sláintecare Implementation Advisory Council had not influenced the Minister’s decision not to extend its remit until the end of the year and instead to appoint a new group to focus on the regional health structures .

It is understood the new group will be tasked with advising the Department of Health on new regional health strucutres which it is designing in conjunction with the HSE.

Sources said that while some members of the original Sláintecare Implementation Advisory Council would be appointed to the planned new group, it was envisaged that it would have a wider membership.

The Sláintecare process has been thrown into turmoil over the last month following the resignation of Prof Keane, Ms Magahy and Prof O’Connor.

In his resignation letter Prof O’Connor predicts the plan is “doomed to fail” and that the promised devolution of powers to regions and communities “will not happen”.

The remaining members of the council met on Friday night to consider their future course of action, amid signs of internal differences. Some members of the council believed it should seek an early meeting with the leaders of the three Government parties.

A letter to the Taoiseach was drafted on Friday, saying the council “continues to have serious misgivings” about the implementation of Sláintecare arising from “the very stark difference in perspective which exists at this time” but ultimately decided not to send it. The council had planned to meet again on Monday.

The Sláintecare reforms centre on introducing a new universal healthcare system in Ireland including greater free access to GP services and that public hospitals would only treat public patients.

Members of the origianal council were unhappy at what they saw as a slow pace of progress, particularly in relation to the establishment of new regional structures which they considered essential given the large increases in spending.

However the regional strucutres also envisaged fundamentally changing budgetary arrangements. Under the proposed reforms, budgets in the regional bodies would be allocated on the basis of demographics, health needs, levels of deprivation and specific geographic issues.

In a letter on Saturday night to the remaining members of the the council Mr Donnelly said: “Recent events have cast a shadow over the real progress that has been made in terms of increasing capacity. We have delivered record annual increases in staff and beds numbers, and increased our critical care capacity by 25 per cent since the beginning of 2020.”

“Considerable work has been done in drafting proposals on regional health areas by the Sláintecare Office, but I believe we need a group that can advise and test what is being proposed. We must ensure we arrive at a structure that is respected by those working in our health service. “

“A number of members of the Sláintecare Implementation Advisory Council (SIAC) have kindly agreed to join this new group and I am hugely grateful. All of you have already invested significant personal time and effort in our reform agenda. This new group will largely comprise frontline workers, including nurses, doctors and allied healthcare professionals. I will be seeking a monthly progress report.”

Mr Donnelly said he shared the concerns of many council members about waiting lists and that he would be establishing a task force to tackle this issue.

“ Our waiting lists were bad before the pandemic hit, but have worsened. I will be announcing details of this after the Budget.”

“We have plans to develop elective care centres in Cork, Dublin and Galway. These proposals were developed by the Sláintecare Office and I will soon seek Cabinet approval to progress these facilities which were recommended in the Sláintecare Implementation Strategy & Action Plan 2021-2023 .

“We have invested heavily in our vital clinical strategies, such as the Maternity Strategy, the Cancer Strategy and many others. All of these aim to deliver better access and outcomes for patients. Measures, including direct access for GPs to diagnostics, allow patients to be treated in a community setting, going to hospital only where necessary.”