Minister expresses concern at medical expert’s criticisms of HSE inertia

Harris: ‘When Prof Joe Harbison speaks about stroke care it’s very important we listen’

Comments made by a leading medical expert on strokes, that there is inertia in the HSE about delivering reform, are of concern, Minister for Health Simon Harris has said.

Mr Harris said that "when Prof Joe Harbison speaks about stroke care it's very important we listen.

“This man is clearly an expert and has designated his working life to trying to improve outcomes for people with stroke.”

Mr Harris told reporters in Dublin that he was due to meet Prof Harbison in coming weeks “and I’ll certainly be asking him for his views as to what he believes the next steps should be”.


The outgoing head of the national stroke programme, which he has led since it was established in 2010, said widespread inertia in the HSE was leaving Ireland unprepared for a huge increase, up to 50 per cent because of an ageing population, in the number of stroke patients over the next decade.

‘Huge problems’

In an excoriating review of progress on the programme, details of which were published in The Irish Times on Monday, he said doctors had encountered “huge problems” implementing its aims and that some crucial elements were frequently ignored at local level despite being fully supported by HSE management.

The stroke expert said “no one ever got fired in the HSE for maintaining the status quo. You get in more trouble doing something and screwing up than for doing nothing, which allows you to evade responsibility when things go wrong.”


The Minister said: “I am concerned to read Prof Harbison’s comments today in relation to his view that there is an inertia in elements of the HSE in terms of delivering reform.

“He did make an interesting point, if I’m understanding what he was saying correctly. There was significant support nationally for this programme but when it was translated into being implemented on a local level some areas were more successful than others.”

Mr Harris praised progress since the programme started in 2010 with a significant reduction in the number of people having a stroke dying in hospital, a reduction in the number of people with strokes being transferred to a nursing home and “we’ve seen an increase in early discharge home with supports in place”.

But the Minister added: “We are sadly going to see an increase in this country in the number of people impacted by strokes and we do need to prepare for it.”

Despite repeated requests for comment the HSE failed to respond to the criticisms.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times