In a major U-turn, Leo Varadkar told the Dáil that Health Minister Simon Harris has been given approval to draft legislation to reestablish the HSE board.
“I do not have a date for it but he has authorisation to do so,” Mr Varadkar said under questioning from Michael Harty, a GP and an Independent TD for Clare.
The dismantlement of the Health Service Executive was announced by former health minister James Reilly who pushed strongly for the reform in the health system.
The changes to scrap the executive were agreed in the 2011 Programme for Government between Fine Gael and the Labour party. And in 2015, during his time in the Department of Health, Mr Varadkar promised that the executive would be fully dismantled by 2020.
Mr Harty yesterday asked Mr Varadkar if he would continue with the commitment laid down in the current Programme for Government, which states that they will carry on with the process of dismantling the HSE and evolving it into a health commission.
Mr Harty said: “Following a Cabinet meeting on 13 October, the minister for health stated there are plans to establish a governing board to oversee HSE performance, which is in keeping with the Sláintecare report. Does this indicate that the process of dismantling the HSE is now no longer the Government’s policy? Will there be legislation to reconstitute the HSE board to ensure it can be accountable for the HSE’s performance?”
Mr Varadkar said that, in light of the publication of the all-party Sláintecare report, Mr Harris, with the support of the Government, has decided to follow the reform advocated by that report, rather than what is in the Programme for Government.
“The minister for health has approval to draft legislation to re-establish the HSE board,” said Mr Varadkar. “I do not have a date for it but he has authorisation to do so.”
After a special Cabinet meeting in Cork last month, Mr Harris highlighted the findings of the Sláintecare report, which says the current HSE governance structure is not fit for purpose.
At the time, he said: “I intend to establish a board to strengthen the oversight and performance of the HSE. This will require legislation and I hope to have a board, with very strong competencies across key areas, established in 2018.”
Last night, Fianna Fáil health spokesman Billy Kelleher said the Government has been “consistently dismantling its own policy”.
“They have done a full circle, it was James Reilly who wanted to get rid of the board and now they are moving to reestablish a board,” said Mr Kelleher.
However, he added that, for some time, there has been a consensus that the current governance of the HSE is not sustainable.