Health chiefs to be quizzed on Sláintecare and whistleblower revelations

Committee meeting comes amid controversy over accounts of internal conversations in Department of Health

Health chiefs are set to be quizzed on the progress of Sláintecare reforms as well as whistleblower revelations when they appear before TDs and Senators on Wednesday.

A meeting of the Oireachtas Committee on Health comes amid controversy over accounts of internal conversations in the Department of Health where officials criticise plans for health recruitment targets and the HSE's handling of financial matters.

HSE chief executive Paul Reid and Department of Health secretary general Robert Watt had been scheduled to appear at the committee before the first media report on a tranche of documents from a whistleblower in the Business Post at the weekend.

A number of committee members have said they intend to raise the matter with the two senior health officials.

Target

People Before Profit TD Gino Kenny said the issues raised about recruitment – and how the HSE does not expect to reach a target of hiring 10,000 staff this year - are “concerning” and he suggested it could impact waiting times for patients.

He said he would also be asking Mr Reid and Mr Watt questions on the matter.

Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall has said she intends to raise the whistleblower documents but also that the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) is "better equipped" to look them.

She said that the focus on Wednesday will be the Sláintecare reforms – in particular plans for regional restructuring of the HSE and to improve accountability of HSE management.

The implementation of the cross-party Sláintecare plan has been called into question in recent months after the resignation of Prof Tom Keane - the chairman of the Sláintecare Implementation Advisory Committee - and the resignation of Laura Magahy the executive director of the Sláintecare programme office.

A programme board chaired by Mr Watt and Mr Reid now has responsibility for implementing Sláintecare.

Ms Shortall raised concern at this saying: “It doesn’t make a lot of sense that the people running the existing services are in charge of the reform programme”.

Adequate services

She said there are 130,000 staff in the HSE and a restructuring is needed so that “senior people in each region are given responsibility for ensuring that we’ve adequate services and spending the money properly.”

She highlighted recent scandals in the HSE and criticised what she claimed was a lack of accountability.

Ms Shortall said: “People are... paid very well to ensure that services are in place and are provided adequately but there is never accountability for the absence of that proper management.

That’s why we need legislation to provide for legal accountability of senior staff throughout the HSE...

“And if they fail people have to lose their jobs.”

Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly published a progress report for the Sláintecare Implementation Strategy and Action Plan on Tuesday afternoon.

Among other areas, it highlighted the delivery of an additional 42 critical care beds, 813 acute beds and 73 sub-acute beds over 2020 and 2021.

Nine primary care centres opening in 2021 and a further 28 are in construction and the GP Direct Access to Diagnostics scheme went live in January 2021, providing them with access to radiology scans through a number of private providers.

Reduced pressure

More than 138,000 radiology scans were delivered in the community in 2021 which is said to have reduced pressure on hospital services.

Around 20.5 million hours of home support was provided in 2021 with more than 55,000 people receiving the service. That is an increase of about 2.9 million hours compared to 2020.

Mr Donnelly said: "My commitment and the Government's commitment to reform and Universal Healthcare is clear and unwavering: we want to ensure every patient receives the right quality care, in the right place, at the right time."