Harris determined to breathe life into health service

Simon Harris is determined he can achieve what his predecessors were unable to do — fix the health service.

The health minister has strongly denied that being kept in the Department of Health was worse than a demotion and is now determined to overhaul the crisis hit system.

Mr Harris, who backed the unsuccessful Simon Coveney in the Fine Gael leadership bid, has said he has a good relationship with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, despite rumours to the contrary.

In an interview with the Irish Examiner Mr Harris said: “My personal relationship with the Taoiseach has always been very good. I consider us to be friends”, the Wicklow TD said, saying Mr Varadkar has been invited to his upcoming wedding.

Mr Harris is due to marry his partner of eight years, Caoimhe Wade, later this month.

Opening up about his relationship, he said: “It’s relatively well known that I am marrying a nurse, which does give me another insight into another aspect of the health service other than being Minister for Health.

“It’s also very nice to have a private relationship whereby you can have a different perspective on life other than just the political one. We are both looking forward to getting married this summer,” the 30-year-old said.

And while, Mr Varadkar may be getting an invite, the rumours that neither men see eye to eye have long swirled around Leinster House and went into overdrive when Mr Harris became one of Mr Coveney’s strongest and most high- profile supporters in the recent leadership contest.

“Leadership elections are interesting and they generally lead to chit chat and noise at times, but that’s all that was.

“I heard lots of rumours during the election campaign, including rumours that I wouldn’t be in the Cabinet so they aren’t always correct”, said Mr Harris, who could be seen pacing anxiously around Leinster House in the hours before Mr Varadkar announced his senior ministers.

Asked if he thought being kept in health — which was famously dubbed Angola by Brian Cowen — was a form of punishment for not supporting Mr Varadkar, he said it was disappointing that commentators would think that “being here in Health is not a very important role in Government”.

“When you have a Taoiseach that prioritised health and said it is going to be a great priority for his Government, I consider it a great honour that he has given me the opportunity to work with him on it,” he said.

As the youngest member of Cabinet, Mr Harris could already be dubbed a high achiever, but he now wants to achieve what some might say is the impossible.

“I believe we can crack this and fix the health service. I would really like to fix the health service, genuinely, I really would,” saying it is his intention to prove this to the public. While he admits no country will ever have a 100% perfect health service, major improvements are possible.

“If I leave politics whenever that is, and have made an improvement on the Irish health service, have begun to implement the Slainte health report and people can actually look aback and said ‘we need improvements here, waiting times fell, staffing went up, nurses came home from abroad, we treated people with respect and dignity, be they patients or staff,’ I would be very proud to have achieved that. So that’s my priority right now.”

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