Outgoing HSE Director Tony O’Brien: Who would want my job?

The embattled outgoing chief of the health service said he doubts anyone else will want his €186,000-a-year job.

Tony O’Brien, director general of the HSE, said while he “hopes there will be strong competition for my post, I have my doubts at this stage”.

He said the role essentially left one person “accountable for the mistakes” of hundreds of thousands.

For fear would-be candidates are put off applying for Mr O’Brien’s well-paid job, Jim Breslin, Department of Health secretary general, said it was “the most meaningful and impactful role any public servant can have”.

“I believe there are people who would find it absolutely rewarding,” he said.

Besides, the successful candidate would have a €10.9bn budget to play with and a fully-funded Sláintecare reform plan — and anyone who had the good of the public sector at heart “will be attracted”, said Mr Breslin.

Mr O’Brien is due to end his tenure in July, despite being repeatedly called upon to resign immediately in the wake of the CervicalCheck scandal.

The scandal emerged during a court case taken by Vicky Phelan who now has terminal cancer and who was not told an earlier smear test had failed to detect abnormalities.

Fine Gael TD Kate O’Connell asked whether Mr O’Brien had ever, during his six-year tenure, told the Department of Health that the job was too big for one person.

“Is there any correspondence where he indicates it is not possible for one person to do his job?” she asked. “He did apply for it, he did get it.”

“In light of spending six years in the job, it seems a little bit confusing at this point in the conversation,” said O’Connell.

Fianna Fáil TD John Brassil as Mr O’Brien “doubted whether there’d be much interest in taking up his role because of the difficulties of the job — it would be nice to know if there’s been take-up”.

He said there should be a succession system in place to ensure posts weren’t left vacant for long.

Health Minister Simon Harris said there had been work done with the Public Appointments Service with a view to placing advertisements shortly.

Mr O’Brien told the health committee yesterday that he was “opposed to the way the HSE was created”.

“I think the creation of the HSE, despite many good things going on, was an exercise in how not to do change management,” he said.

Mr O’Brien said he was appointed to an organisation, in 2012, “that was to be wound down” after the abolition of its board in 2011, but within two or three years “it became clear that wasn’t going to happen”.

“Six years on, we’ve abolished a board that we are now recreating. That’s not good progress,” he said.

Mr Harris told the committee he intended to shortly bring forward legislative proposals to provide for the appointment of a new HSE board.


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