Paul Reid interview: Death of health staff is HSE boss's low point of Covid-19

The death of HSE staff has been the lowest point in the Covid-19 crisis for health service chief Paul Reid, but he admits the one positive to emerge from the pandemic has been a greater public appreciation of the HSE brand.
Paul Reid interview: Death of health staff is HSE boss's low point of Covid-19
Paul Reid, CEO of the Health Services Executive. Picture: Moya Nolan

The death of HSE staff has been the lowest point in the Covid-19 crisis for health service chief Paul Reid, but he admits the one positive to emerge from the pandemic has been a greater public appreciation of the HSE brand.

In a deeply personal interview in today’s

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“At the end of the day it’s about family, it’s about how you live your life,” he said.

Mr Reid said his working-class background in Finglas, Dublin, where his mother did most of the rearing of her six children, has kept him grounded.

With six children in the family — three boys and three girls — it was really about getting out to work, he said.

“My Dad may not have been around for all of it. So my Mam did raise most of us for a long time on her own. But thankfully, we did all, kind of, reconcile at a later stage and my Dad made a lot up by looking after his grandchildren. He died at age 66 many, many years ago now.

Despite leaving school without a Leaving Certificate, hard work won him key roles in Eircom, Trócaire, the Department of Public Enterprise and Reform, and Fingal County Council before he took over at the helm of the HSE.

“Crisis seems to follow me wherever I go ... but everything is relative to the situation you are in at the time. I think it’s about how you manage the pressure rather than how it’s publicly perceived.”

A key goal when he took up his HSE role in May 2019 was to re-build public confidence in the health service.

“And the way to do that is not to just talk about it but to obviously improve people’s experiences.”

Mr Reid agrees that the pandemic has, unexpectedly, made that goal more attainable, as people are hugely appreciative of the work being done by frontline workers.

“It’s obviously fragile, but I definitely think it has [improved attitudes].”

They had tracked some recent empathy surveys and had seen the HSE brand “come up as number one in terms of brands that people connect with during this crisis”, he said.

Mr Reid says he welcomes the easing of restrictions and that while he respects the views of experts in public health such as chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan, “I think we in the HSE would have a wider lens beyond just public health matters”.

He says they have done well to win “the people’s hearts and minds” in terms of compliance, but that “we can’t keep locking down society if all the indicators are going well for us”.

“It would be high risk. You would lose the public. They’ll just get two steps ahead of us.”

In terms of losing healthcare staff — both HSE staff and contract workers — Mr Reid said: “I found that really emotional, really tough ... particularly talking to next-of-kin of HSE staff.”

Mr Reid says he could not see himself staying on in the HSE beyond his five-year contract.

“My contract is for five years and I like it like that because I’m not [personally] constrained.

“I want to keep the pace, I want to achieve a lot in that timeframe. thinking you’re there for 10 years, you can lose personal momentum.”

Mr Reid also talks about the fantastic support his wife Margaret, who worked for the Dublin Airport Authority (Aer Rianta), has been to him throughout his career despite health issues of her own.

She suffered a heart attack at aged 33 and another aged 43. Heart disease is in her family.

Fortunately, she has been in great health “for many years” since having stents fitted.

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