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File image of Laura Magahy who has resigned as executive director of Sláintecare.

Opposition TDs call on Health Minister to explain Sláintecare resignations

Laura Magahy and Dr Tom Keane have stepped down from their roles.

THE CO-LEADER of the Social Democrats has described two top officials involved in the Sláintecare programme leaving their roles as a “very serious development”. 

It was reported yesterday that the executive director of Sláintecare, Laura Magahy, had resigned from her position.

The chairperson of the Sláintecare Advisory Council, Dr Tom Keane, also announced he was leaving his role as his term as chair is ending. 

Members of the opposition have now called on Health Minister Stephen Donnelly to answer questions about these resignations. 

Speaking to RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland, Róisín Shortall, who was the chair of the Sláintecare Oireachtas Committee, called on the Taoiseach to “move along” the plans for programme. 

“I think it raises very fundamental questions about the progress of this very important reform programme, and I think there’s an onus now on the minister to explain why these two senior people have resigned,” Shortall said.

“I would expect that the minister would have spoken to both of the individuals, and I think the minister and the secretary general in the Department of Health owe it to the public now to explain what the problem was here and how we’re going to address those issues.”

She criticised slow progress of the restructuring of the health service “in terms of integrating hospitals and community services on a regional basis”, a key element of the Sláintecare plan. 

The cross-party plan is aimed at transforming Ireland’s health and social care services over the course of a decade. 

“I can only come to the conclusion that both Tom Keane and Laura Magahy were very frustrated by [delays] and that something needed to happen.”

She said that Ireland is an “outlier in terms of how we provide health services” and said Sláintecare needs to be “about more than merely a rebranding exercise”. 

“We need to see actual real reform and the fundamental changes in how we provide services and how there is accountability for the provision of those services.”

My concern now at this point is that the government isn’t serious about this important reform programme.

Questions to be answered

Sinn Féin health spokesperson David Cullinane said Magahy’s resignation “raises questions” about Sláintecare. 

He also called on Stephen Donnelly to ensure the posts are “urgently filled on a permanent basis”. 

“This unexpected departure demands clarity on the circumstances surrounding it, and the future of the position,” Cullinane said in a statement. 

People Before Profit health spokesperson Gino Kenny said Donnelly should appear before the Oireachtas Health Committee to answer questions on the resignations. 

“The resignations and comments from the former Chair of the Slaintecare Implementation Advisory Council are jarring,” the TD said in a statement. 

He said the political will is “not present in government to properly implement a pla for the delivery of Sláintecare”. 

“I will be writing to the Health Committee Chair for Minister Donnelly to appear before the committee next week.” 

Labour leader Alan Kelly said Donnelly must ensure the vacated roles are filled by the end of September. 

“We cannot allow this project to fall by the wayside,” Kelly said. 

In other Department of Health senior staff changes, Kathleen MacLellan, assistant secretary in the department’s social care division, has retired from her position.

The department confirmed that MacLellan, who was a member of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET), had retired from the job in recent weeks. 

A process is underway to fill her role. 

Sláintecare plans

Magahy previously headed up significant projects including the €1 billion urban renewal of Temple Bar in the ’90s and the €284 million development of the Mater Hospital in the early 2000s. 

RTÉ news reported today that Keane said he decided to leave the role after concluding that the “requirements for implementing this unprecedented programme for change are seriously lacking”. 

In a statement, the Department of Health thanked Magahy and Keane for their commitment and contribution to the Sláintecare plans. 

The department said “significant progress has been made” in implementing Sláintecare plans since 2018.

The developments include the “introduction of a new GP contract, the establishment of the HSE Board, and an agreed unprecedented investment of €1.235 billion in Budget 2021 for specific Sláintecare initiatives”.

The department said the government is “more committed than ever before” to implementing Sláintecare. 

A spokesperson for the Health Minister has been contacted for comment. 

Talks are ongoing between the Department of Health, HSE and representative bodies in relation to a draft Sláintecare consultant contract firmed up at the end of May. 

Some terms in the draft contract caused outrage among doctors around issues like patient advocacy, intellectual property rights and location of consultant roles.

Under the contract, consultants will not be permitted to conduct any private hospital work and will have a starting salary of almost €189,000, the Department of Health said.  

Talks on the contract began last week and remain ongoing. It’s understood they could run into next month over a number of different days.

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