Did Dr James Reilly, Minister for Health, know the company believed to be recommending closing Portiuncula maternity hospital was ‘Health Partnership’ set up by his appointee as Chair to the Hospitals Group which acts on the report?
An exchange in the Seanad last night between the Cathaoirleach Paddy Burke (Fine Gael) Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh (Sinn Féin) suggests as much. The exchange took place under House privilege and allegations are not supported by this reporter or rabble.
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: Yesterday, the Minister for Health, Deputy Reilly, addressed the Seanad about the reconfiguration of maternity services across hospital groups. He mentioned issues surrounding the procurement of the report which examines this. It has subsequently been brought to my attention that there may be serious repercussions to this statement and the Minister was not fully open or transparent with the information available to him. I understand the report to reconfigure maternity services was commissioned to a company called the Health Partnership, and worker representatives believe the report will result in the closure of maternity centres in Portiuncula Hospital at Ballinasloe and in Letterkenny, with the possible downgrading of other services in the group.
The company was set up by the current chair of the hospitals group, Mr. Noel Daly. Mr. Daly was appointed chair of the group by the Minister, who expressed full confidence in him at the time.
An Cathaoirleach: I ask the Senator to refrain from naming people on the record of the House who are not here to defend themselves.
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: He is the chair of the hospital group in question and involved with the company which produced the report. It would appear there may be a major conflict of interest in the commissioning of the report, and the Minister must make a clear statement that the report is to be withdrawn completely, with Mr. Daly to review his position as chair of the board. When appointing chairpersons to the hospital group, the Minister identified a number of key responsibilities, including ensuring compliance with the code of practice for governance of State bodies, undertaking an assessment of the composition, competency, profile and potential conflicts of interest—–
An Cathaoirleach: The Senator cannot make allegations against people. Is there a question?
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: I am stating what the Minister has said.
An Cathaoirleach: Is there a question for the Leader?
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: I have a number of pertinent questions for the Leader. The person in question, the chair of the north-west hospital group, set up the company in 2004 and also appeared to be involved in plans to develop the €75 million Wyndale Clinic which was to be located on the grounds of Letterkenny hospital.
I have some serious questions to be addressed by the Minister. I propose an amendment to the Order of Business that the Minister come to the Seanad today to answer these questions. Does he agree that the report into the reconfiguration of maternity services in the west and north west cannot be relied upon as independent and fully accountable, and will he ask for it to be withdrawn immediately? Does the Minister feel the chairman of the group should review his position? What is the nature of the relationship between the Minister and the chairman of the west and north-west hospital group?
An Cathaoirleach: That is completely out of order as you are reflecting on an individual.
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: What connection, if any, does the chairman have with Fine Gael?
An Cathaoirleach: I could rule the amendment out of order if the Senator continues.
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: It is very important as the Minister was not forthcoming when he had an opportunity yesterday to address these issues. He brought up the procurement issue but he did not give us the full information he should have. We have seen decisions taken with Ballinasloe—–
An Cathaoirleach: What is the proposed amendment?
Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh: I ask that the Minister comes before the House to give us a full, frank and transparent report on the issues surrounding procurement of the report which considers the reorganisation of maternity services in the west and north west, as well as any matters around the chairmanship of the board. What is the appointment process for the chairpersons of boards? Was that process carried out through public appointment? I understand it was not.
Senator Aideen Hayden: I am sure the Leader will deal with this in his own time but it is wrong to be impugning the reputation of people in this House, particularly when there are procedures in place that have withstood the test of time.
Today, Sinn Féin’s Health Spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin TD, has asked for answers from the Minister:
“A report by the private consultancy firm D&F Health Partnership Ltd. has recommended major cuts to maternity services in the West and North West.
“It has emerged, as highlighted by my colleague Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh in the Seanad today, that the Chair of the West/North West Hospitals Group, Noel Daly, who was appointed by Health Minister James Reilly, is also a founder and 50% shareholder of D&F Health Partnership.
“Minister Reilly admitted in the Seanad on Wednesday that the Director General of the HSE asked the HSE Internal Audit Unit to undertake a review and established that the procurement of the services of D&F Health Partnership was not in accordance with HSE National Financial Regulations.
“The Hospitals Group of which Mr. Daly is chair commissioned the report by the company in which he still has an interest, as admitted in the Hospitals Group’s statement today. This is clearly a conflict of interest and one of which Minister Reilly must have been aware when he appointed Mr. Daly.
“The Minister must come into the Dáil next week and fully explain his role and that of his appointee.”