Experts quit Sláintecare roles ‘because they felt powerless’

A leading obstetrician was among those who resigned from a body set up to advise on the Sláintecare health service reform plan earlier this year, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

rofessor Mary Higgins, a leading obstetrician and consultant in the National Maternity Hospital who played a prominent role in the abortion referendum campaign three years ago, is understood to have resigned from the Sláintecare Implementation Advisory Council (SIAC) over the summer.

The now-disbanded SIAC has been hit with a raft of resignations in recent months that have thrown into doubt plans to implement the cross-party proposal to overhaul the provision of healthcare in the State.

SIAC chair Professor Tom Keane and Sláintecare executive director Laura Magahy’s resignations in early September plunged the reform plan into crisis.

Both believed their efforts to implement reforms were being impeded from within the Department of Health and the HSE, having both made the case that the Department of the Taoiseach should lead on driving the reforms.

Consultant gastroenterologist Dr Anthony O’Connor resigned from SIAC at the end of last month, predicting in his resignation letter the plan is “doomed to fail”.

It has since emerged two other members of SIAC, Professor Paddy Broe and emergency medicine consultant Dr Emily O’Conor, also resigned in the summer after details of a draft consultant contract emerged.

Prof Higgins is also understood to have resigned around the same time. She declined to comment on the reasons for her resignation when contacted yesterday. However, well-placed sources confirmed her departure. The Department of Health did not respond to a request for comment.

Sláintecare is the cross-party plan to achieve a universal single-tier health and social care system within the next decade and remove private care from publicly funded hospitals.

Its implementation has been beset by delays, with a proposal to implement six regional integrated care organisations or regional health areas held up last year as the health service battled the Covid-19 pandemic.

Another SIAC member, Dr Eddie Molloy, a management consultant, said the resignations from advisory council were a result of a lack of influence.

“A number of them drifted away because they felt their ability to influence the acceleration of regional structures and the consultant contract was of no value. The influence they expected to bring to bear didn’t transpire,” he said.

“They just felt really powerless, they saw the advisory role as carrying no weight.”

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly announced last weekend SIAC was being disbanded, with a new advisory group being established to consult on the rollout of regional health areas only. Dr Molloy is part of this group.

Appearing before the Oireachtas Health Committee last week, Mr Donnelly also confirmed plans this week to introduce a programme board that would be co-chaired by his secretary general Robert Watt and the chief executive of the HSE Paul Reid.

Mr Donnelly told the Irish Hospital Consultants Association yesterday that he wanted to see an agreement on a new Sláintecare consultant contract to be agreed “within weeks”.

He said the new public-only contract would “form an important part of our progress towards universal healthcare”.

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