Dáil seeks answers over ‘secret’ HSE grouping

THE doctor in charge of the reconfiguration of health services in the south has been asked to explain to a Dáil committee the existence of a “secret” group advising the Health Service Executive (HSE) on the project.

Professor John Higgins, the HSE’s director of reconfiguration in the South, has been invited to appear before the Joint Oireachtas Health Committee to address what committee members described as “an unprecedented departure for the HSE”.

The existence of the group of 17 – which includes a property developer and a horse trainer – was revealed by the Irish Examiner last month.

Chaired by property developer Michael O’Flynn, the group was set up last year to advise the HSE on the reconfiguration of health services in the region.

Other members of the high profile non-executive advisory board are racehorse trainer Aidan O’Brien and president of University College Cork Dr Michael Murphy.

Leading business figures on the board include Padraig O’Riordan, managing partner of law firm Arthur Cox Solicitors, Paul Breen, former executive vice president of Elan Corporation, Sean O’Driscoll, chief executive of Glen Dimplex, and Kevin Kenny, tax partner Ernst & Young.

Prof Higgins said at the time that the existence of the group had not been widely publicised because members’ time and advice was free of charge.

He said the genesis of the group had already existed when he took up his reconfiguration post and that he had broadened it to include academia and clinicians.

He said the group has vast experience in change management, in leading change in very large organisations, and in the pursuit of excellence.

However, Joint Oireachtas Health Committee members Senator Phil Prendergast, and Labour TDs Jan O’Sullivan and Kathleen Lynch want to question Prof Higgins on the group.

Among the issues they are likely to raise are:

* what controls are there to ensure board members are not privy to confidential information both private and commercial;

* what measures are there to ensure board members have no conflicts of interest;

* is it appropriate that a property developer who has interests in the nursing home sector should be advising on a reconfiguration process which could include a greater role for private nursing homes;

* is it appropriate that the chief executive of the state’s largest private health firm should be advising on a reconfiguration process which could lead to a greater role for private firms in health service provision.

The committee also wants to know if the group’s meetings have been minuted, and if there are any other “secret” boards advising the HSE.

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