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Fianna Fáil TD calls for Robert Watt to be made boss of the HSE and the Dept of Health

Barry Cowen believes it is time to share leadership between the two bodies.

Image: Leah Farrell

THE HSE AND the Department of Health should have one chief executive, according to Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen.

Robert Watt, the current Secretary General of the Department of Health, should also head up the HSE, according to the Laois-Offaly TD.

His comments come after HSE boss Paul Reid said he would step aside from the role in October.

While Cowen said he wanted to wish Reid the best as he takes on a new career path, the TD said it is time for the Government to use this opportunity to finally “end the dysfunction between the Department of Health and the HSE”.

“Robert Watt should be made Secretary General of both organisations to end the farce of these two institutions marking one another all the time and absorbing resources competing with one another that instead should be focused on patients,” he said.

Tensions have existed between the HSE and the department in recent years, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Controversy also surrounded the salary Watt received when he moved from the Department of Public Expenditure to take up the new role as Sec Gen in the health department.

Cowen said Watt’s recent salary increase would be justified were he to take charge of both the HSE and the Department of Health.

001 Cabinet Monday Fianna Fáil TD for Laois-Offaly Barry Cowen says there is now an opportunity to end the political footballs being passed between the HSE and the Dept of Health. Source: RollingNews.ie

“As I have said before in policy discussions within Fianna Fáil, it is time to end this arm’s length separation of the HSE and the Government. The establishment of the HSE was a good idea executed badly,” he said.

“It is time for politics to step up again and face up to the reality that healthcare is at a crossroads.” 

Cowen went on to ask whether there is a “coherent plan” for healthcare in Ireland, particularly waiting lists.

Analysis by the Irish Patients Association shows that in January of this year, it took the average patient 10.3 months to see a consultant and a further 7.6 months to have treatment.

This had decreased to a 9.47 month wait for a consultant and a 7.1 wait for treatment in July — a total wait of 16.5 months.

Earlier this year, Health Minister Stephen Donnelly, who is a member of the same party as Cowen, launched the 2022 Waiting List Action Plan with a view to tackling the problem. The plan commits €350 million to cut the numbers on active waiting lists by 18% by the end of the year.

“Has it abandoned the blueprint agreed by all members of the Oireachtas – Slaintecare,” he asked. 

“The HSE and the Department of Health need to be restructured to look at health in two ways, acute and community, rather than in the current method which appears to look at healthcare with 57 different varieties of views, structures and teams.

“The HSE and the Department should have one chief executive overseeing healthcare in Ireland. It is time to end the political footballs between the Department and the HSE and reform services for the patients,” he said. 

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