No more headaches for Paul Reid as he departs HSE

Mr Reid said recently that he thinks every day about the decisions that were made or not made
No more headaches for Paul Reid as he departs HSE

Paul Reid speaking at the Enhanced Community Care Conference 2022 in Dublin Castle earlier this month. Mr Reid will step down as CEO of the HSE on Monday. Picture: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland

On Monday Paul Reid steps back from the role of HSE CEO, having spent most of his three and half years on what he called ‘the burning platform’ of Covid-19.

Usually when a senior health official leaves, commentary on their time in office is a straight comparison between how patients were treated before and afterwards.

In this case less than 10 months after his appointment was announced in April 2019, the first meeting of the National Crisis Management Team Covid-19 took place.

It had been hoped waiting lists would start to reduce as Sláintecare community health reforms rolled out, but instead a deadly pandemic and catastrophic cyberattack combined to leave the health service running to stand still.

In April 2019 there were 551,965 people on various outpatient waiting lists. This April that number hit 624,773 — including 21,397 children waiting longer than 18 months to be seen.

Outside of hospitals there are 4,127 children waiting for the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services including 843 across Cork and Kerry, with Kerry services the subject of a critical report. The national figure for April 2019 was 2,606.

This is despite international experts, including World Health Organization emergency programme lead Dr Mike Ryan saying how well Ireland did in comparison to many other countries during the pandemic.

Nursing home residents took the brunt of what is seen as a tragic gap in that response, with 2,600 deaths and questions about support offered in early 2020.

Mr Reid said recently that he thinks every day about the decisions that were made or not made.

“It is something that torments me,” he told RTÉ’s Claire Byrne.

Among the overall deaths were 23 healthcare workers, and these also prey on his mind, he said.

Across the system, however, he points to positive changes which may not have come as soon as they did without the pressures of Covid-19  to drive them.

Among these are access to appointments online or by phone, something which was resisted previously by the medical profession. Patients also benefit from direct GP access to scans like MRI with over 100,000 seen last year alone, a process doctors had long wanted.

There is more co-operation between the HSE and private health bodies, GPs, and pharmacies leading to faster treatments, and rollout of the vaccine campaigns. 

It is these changes the outgoing CEO sees as having potential for lasting impact, praising staff for their ability to adapt.

He told the Irish Examiner: “People have to make personal assessments on their career at all different stages, and that’s exactly where I am now. 

So I don’t feel I have left anything behind me. I don’t believe I left anybody down.” 

Even as Slaintecare-driven changes roll out, including programmes to help older people avoid hospital emergency departments, there is frustration behind the scenes at the pace — resulting in resignations of senior officials last year.

In other areas of the sprawling HSE brief, historic concerns persist.

Reid stepped into the top role following the resignation of Tony O’Brien as a result of the Cervical Check controversy.

The number of legal claims brought in relation to this now stands at 368 with women from the 221plus group continuing to highlight anger and dissatisfaction at how they were treated.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation in April 2019 counted 10,229 people spending a night on a trolley instead of a hospital bed, and this year in April they counted 8,717.

Munster patients have yet to see these improvements, with Cork University Hospital recording a new high just this week of 88 people waiting on one day.

However, all of this is no longer a headache for Mr Reid. He has said he has no plans to take up a new role immediately, only travelling to see his family and granddaughter in Texas.

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