HSE advisers called for ‘quick wins’

A GROUP set up to advise the Health Service Executive (HSE) on reconfiguration of hospital services in the South emphasised the need for “positive media management” and “quick wins” that demonstrated the benefits of reconfiguration.

The advisory board, whose existence was kept under wraps for 10 months, also emphasised the need for “pleasant persistence” to encourage staff to buy into “culture change” brought about by reconfiguration.

The various strategies of the board, which first met last September, are outlined in minutes of its meetings which also show that three board members – horse trainer Aidan O’Brien, president of University College Cork, Dr Michael Murphy, and Prof Gerry O’Sullivan, director of Cork Cancer research centre – were unable to attend any of the board’s first five meetings.

The minutes also show that the role and responsibilities of the director of reconfiguration, Prof John Higgins, were only finally clarified a year after his appointment and the terms of reference of the advisory board were not set out until six months after they first met. These delays occurred as the HSE appointed a new regional director of operations in the HSE South last January – Pat Healy – after which discussions took place with Mr Healy regarding Prof Higgins’ role.

The minutes state that Prof Higgins would have “delegated responsibility and authority” from Mr Healy to lead and implement the reconfiguration programme.

At its November meeting, the board was advised of the importance of “some quick wins” to build on the credibility of the reconfiguration process and it was “essential that effort is put into positively managing the media”.

It was also agreed that the establishment of the board would be made public but this did not happen. The existence of the advisory group was revealed in May by the Irish Examiner.

Yesterday Prof Higgins met with public representatives who are members of two reconfiguration subgroups to brief them on the role of the advisory board.

Cork city Cllr John Buttimer (FG), a member of the acute hospitals committee, said he was unhappy that the board did not have a public representative, a patient advocate, greater representation for Co Kerry and more females. Prof Geraldine McCarthy, dean of the Catherine McAuley School of Nursing and Midwifery at UCC, is the only woman on the board.

“The advisory board is the powerhouse of all the committees that have been set up, we can come up with suggestions, but the advisory board test drives them.

“I think the board should at least have a public representative and a patient advocate,” he said.

Yesterday Prof Higgins said he was prepared to hold further discussions in relation to extending board membership. He also said the emphasis on positive media management was in the context of a climate of “considerable negative reporting” of health care and the effect that this has on staff morale.


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