November 25, 2004

Politicians Saw Health Boards As ‘Spoils’ – PD

A Government backbencher has welcomed the "passing" of the health boards, which she described as the "most coveted of all the spoils" for politicians elected to local councils.

Ms Fiona O'Malley (PD, Dun Laoghaire) said that she "did not enjoy the privilege of serving on a health board and what a privilege it was.

"It was the most coveted of all the spoils victors enjoyed in the post-election negotiations on the establishment of new local authorities."

She was speaking during the ongoing debate on the Health Bill, which aims to transform the administration of the health service. It will establish a single Health Service Executive and will dissolve 11 health boards, and bring 27 separate health agencies under its control.

Ms O'Malley said that "for a country of four million people, did we really need 263 people on 11 different boards spread across the country to make health policy?

"We do not have 11 different health systems in this country and our system of governance should reflect that."

The current system was a "towering edifice of bureaucracy, which successive ministers have toiled in vain to contain".

Praising her party leader, the Tanaiste, Ms Harney, Ms O'Malley said that as well as being Minister for Health "she could equally claim for herself the title of minister for reform and implementation".

Mr John McGuinness (FF, Carlow-Kilkenny) said the Minister was "the right person in the right place at this time to do the business in the context of delivering an efficient health service by removing vested interests from it and the top-heavy bureaucracy we have seen.

"All one has to do is look at the increase in the number of employees in the health service, when it is obvious that it is primarily accounted for by bureaucracy rather than people in the front line, with the administrative square footage substantially greater than the area reserved for centres of care."

Ms Olwyn Enright (FG, Laois-Offaly) expressed concern that the health service would no longer be the responsibility of the Dail and that they would no longer be able to ask questions about the service, which was one of the areas they represented their constituents on.

Mr Denis Naughten (FG, Longford-Roscommon) said the Bill was reform in name only. The health service should be brought closer to the community and all the HSE would provide was "another unaccountable quango".

The debate continues today.