Donnelly denies silencing critics in Sláintecare row

Donnelly denies silencing critics in Sláintecare row

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly wrote to members of the council on Saturday night informing them it would be disbanded.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly's spokesman has denied he is silencing his critics after disbanding the Sláintecare advisory council.

The implementation of Sláintecare remains “full steam ahead,” according to a spokesman for the health minister.

Mr Donnelly wrote to members of the council on Saturday night informing them it would be disbanded and a new group would advise the Department of Health on the six new regional health areas only, a controversial part of Sláintecare, which has so far not been implemented.

The Implementation Advisory Council has been hit by multiple resignations recently, with the departures of chairman Tom Keane, executive director Laura Magahy, and Dr Anthony O'Connor over dissatisfaction with progress in reforming Ireland's health system.

Mr Donnelly and his department's secretary general, Robert Watt, have both come under fire for their attitude towards the project and council in recent weeks. 

Dr O'Connor said in his resignation letter that a meeting with Mr Watt left him feeling the project "was doomed to fail".

A spokesman for Mr Donnelly denied that the recent criticism led to the group's disbandment.

“There is no delay here in terms of implementing the Sláintecare report,” a spokesman for Mr Donnelly said.

“Quite the opposite, it’s full steam ahead,” he stressed, adding that 97% of the recommendations in the Sláintecare report are in progress.

Responding to the letter sent by Mr Donnelly, Social Democrats co-leader Róisín Shortall said it was an attempt to "silence" the people speaking out, and to gloss over the fact that the reform programme is being delayed and being blocked. 

"They are all saying that there is no commitment within the Department of Health to implement it and senior officials are working to block it," Ms Shortall said.

"I believe those people," she added.

Liam Doran, the INMO general secretary and a member of the council, said he was not surprised when he received the letter, but he was disappointed.

He said the council had asked for a three-month extension of its term in light of "the recent difficulties".

"So it's disappointing to see that the minister, who has his prerogative, has decided not to grant our request. I'm not really surprised, I think nobody likes criticism and we obviously have been critical in recent weeks about the pace of progress and the nature of progress.

"So, not surprised but disappointed because at the end of the day, the council were set up to monitor and comment on the ongoing implementation of the totality of this Sláintecare report, that's what we've always tried to do.

Members of the council, including the chair, have said recently that they view progress as impossible because of the lack of governance and accountability and commitment. We can't ignore that.

"In our engagement over the last couple of weeks, we've had no explanation from the Government, or from senior management as to how very very excellent people like Tom Keane can arrive at that conclusion.

"But we now have a minister who has decided to dispense with our services and set up a group which has a one item agenda, of monitoring the regional health authorities, which is not the totality of Sláintecare and that of itself is disappointing as well."

A senior source indicated that some current members of the council are to “definitely” be transferred on to the new group, which will be smaller than the current committee, however it is not yet known how many.

Mr Donnelly’s letter to members stated: “We must ensure we arrive at a structure that is respected by those working in our health service.“

Mr Doran says he wishes "the new group well" however has concerns that the entire Sláintecare report will now not be implemented.

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