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The Director General (DG) of the HSE, Tony O’Brien, yesterday (Tuesday 6th March 2018) announced his decision not wish to renew his term of office beyond the completion of his six-year term and the expiration of his current contract, at the end of Summer 2018.

Mr O’Brien claimed that he came to this decision last Summer (2017) and discussed it with Minister Harris at that time. He confirmed this decision formally to Minister Harris last week, allowing the recruitment process for a new DG to commence and to facilitate the beginning of the transition.

Mr O’Brien shared a video address to HSE staff, outlining the reasons behind his departure and thanking staff for the “unique privilege” it has been “to lead the health service and its staff through its most challenging period”. He highlighted the resilience of health service staff all disciplines, praising their efforts through “tough times” and stating that they had: “enabled it [the health service] to emerge more efficient and effective than it had been, despite the increasing population needs and demands”.

He continued: “Since August 2012,  working  together, we have achieved quite a lot in difficult circumstances. We have managed to keep the health services running as efficiently as we possibly could throughout the recessionary period and as a result of all of your efforts we have delivered increased services each year including those years when resources were still reducing”.

Mr O’Brien also acknowledged many of the challenges that exist in the Irish healthcare system, particularly in relation ED overcrowding and access. He told staff: “while we still have quite a way to go, there has been considerable progress in important areas such as for example the establishment of the National Women and Infants’ Health Programme; the e-health and electronic health records programme; the development of a long-awaited new architecture for ICT and logistics, the introduction of the Open Disclosure Policy and how we respond today in comparison to the past when things go wrong”. 

He outlined some of the achievements in service delivery such as stroke services, cardiac care, cancer care, acute medicine, emergency management and improvements and reinvestment in the National Ambulance Service and noted the improvements in staff training and development initiatives since 2012, such as the restoration of training budgets, the introduction of Staff Engagement Surveys and the Staff Forum, the leadership focused HSE Masterclasses, and the new Leadership Academy.

Mr O’Brien told staff how he and others have, for quite a while, publicly argued that the health system “is the wrong shape and size” to enable those who are working in it to meet the growing needs of the population and claimed that this had contributed to many of the greatest challenges in healthcare, including ED overcrowding and gaining access to many of our services.

Mr O’Brien discussed his role over the past two years in advocating to have health planning put on a ten-year time-scale and in attempting to remove party politics from that planning process, commenting that he is encouraged to see his efforts “bearing fruit through SláinteCare”.

He also discussed his efforts over the six years to seek an increase in Capital Funding for the health services in order to progress key projects, acknowledging the recently published National Development Plan 2040 and highlighting the importance of these projects and the fact that the necessary funding was successfully secured. This, he said, includes 2,500 beds as part of the capacity review.

In relation to the latest healthcare obstacle, Storm Emma, Mr O’Brien expressed his in pride within the HSE and praising the values and commitment of health care workers that came to the fore during this time.

The Irish Cancer Society has expressed their appreciation to Mr O’Brien for his leadership in delivering improvements in cancer services in Ireland, such as his assistance in guiding the Breast Check screening programme in its early years, before he became CEO of the newly-established National Cancer Screening Service, and for playing a “pivotal role” in the implementation of the 2006 – 2015 National Cancer Strategy, as Chief Advisor to the HSE on its implementation.

Between now until the end of the summer, Mr O’Brien has stated that things will be “business-as-usual” and that he will continue to work alongside all staff to deliver “the best quality services that we can to our patients and service-users”.