Publishing a bill yesterday which will end the participation of elected members of the existing health boards, Health Minister Micheál Martin said he planned to set up a number of forums for public representatives to express their views.
This was seen as a significant watering down of initial proposals by the minister to abolish forever political membership of health boards, which at the time was met with considerable opposition from local representatives.
Mr Martin said members of the forum would meet five or six times a year, under the auspices of the new Health Service Executive, “to articulate their concerns in each region”.
However, their engagement under the reformed health board structure will limit them to taking part in little more than a talking shop. The bill will end any reserve functions of the councillors including their power to adopt service plans, annual account and annual reports. These powers will be transferred to the new chief executives of the four regional offices of the Health Service Executive. The bill also introduces the requirement that the minister’s consent must be obtained before any property can be acquired or disposed of by the health boards.
Criticising the bill, Fine Gael TD Bernard Allen said he “found it incredible the delivery of the health service was being handed over to bureaucrats”. He said reducing the role of public representatives to making observations would hand over the reins to “the power blocs, the vested interests who have resisted reform for years and by that I mean the Irish Medical Organisation and the Irish Hospital Consultants Organisation.”
“It may be seen as the popular thing to do, but it is not about real reform. “There will be no watchdog for the public, no consumer representative and that is not good for local democracy.”
However, chairman of the Association of Health Boards, Jack Bourke, argued councillors could wield influence despite having no powers. As a former Lord Mayor, he was qualified to make the claim, he said. Mr Bourke said he was glad the minister had not gone with the recommendation of the prospectus report which said Oireachtas members only should have health board membership.
“People blew the fuse at that, it was almost pointing the finger at councillors for anything that went wrong. I made it known to Mr Martin that democracy couldn’t be thrown out the door.”
Michael Lawlor, chairman of the Local Authority Members Association, said any removal of power from public representatives was a retrograde step.
Mr Martin outlined details of the new bill at the Irish Medical Organisation’s AGM in Killarney.