A new HSE boss and cancer chief – dare we be hopeful?

Posted in Blog by saraburke on June 3, 2010

Two of the most senior health service posts have been filled in the last week. Cathal Magee is the new HSE CEO, while Canadian Susan O’Reilly is the new cancer chief. So whats the word on the new HSE managers?Cathal Magee, the new HSE CEO has a long, successful, varied career, according to anyone I spoke to today. There is a sense that this is his last major role, that he has earned enough money never to need to work again, but he is taking this on out of commitment to public service or that he feels he has something to give.

Magee is from Cavan, a married father of four, who has described himself as a hard working business man but also a family man. He is sports (particularly GAA, soccer and rugby) mad. He has BA & MSc in management.

Magee was in the news last week as a non executive director of the EBS. He is also a non executive director of the VHI, which presumably he’ll have to give up in his new role. Until February of this year, he was acting CEO of Eircom when Paul Donovan got appointed to the job. Before that he was head of Eircom’s retail side. In Eircom where he was for 15 years, he is attributed with reshaping their cost base and carrying out very successful negotiations with unions and successfully opposing a cheap buy out of Eircom. Prior to that he worked for the National Australia Bank Group in UK and Ireland.

He started off his career in the old health boards. He joined the North Western Health Board in 1972 as a clerical officer in the Finance Dept. He was promoted quickly to various jobs before moving to the western health board as Industrial Relations Manager. Importantly, people remember him as ‘blazing a trail’, of championing community services in the north west which has always been better in these areas. Specifically he is remembered for work done on community nursing, OT, physios, speech and language therapies. After his time in the WHB he went to Bord na Mona as director of HR and business restructuring where he ‘led major change’.

In terms of management style, he is described as ‘very pleasant’, ‘tough’, a ‘straight talker’, a man ‘up for the challenge’. He had a strong reputation for building relationships and this is most evident in the restructuring he got through Eircom through pragmatic negotiations with the unions. One union person said, that he knows how to strike a deal and how to make it happen. He is not interested in fights, although tough, he is happy to delegate and give autonomy. And in Magee’s world if you have authority then you are also accountable. Speculation is that there will be a much more streamlined HSE with Magee in charge.

In terms of the challenges that lie ahead for Cathal Magee when he takes up post on 1 September next, there are many. One of the biggest challenges is how to provide, quality public health and social care services with a declining budget and fewer staff to a growing, more demanding population.

Second, and perhaps most importantly is the issue of credibility, trust and transparency which has been very evident in the last few weeks on debacle over the number of children who have died while in the care of the state. HSE integrity is at an all time low, both politically and publicly. So real leadership is needed to regain that trust and for citizens to believe that the HSE is a credible, reliable institution.

As part of this, the HSE will need to go about its work in a very different way eg what Emily O’Reilly has been saying on the culture of secrecy and the defensive way HSE works. Magee really needs to change the modus operandi of health system.

The structures of the HSe have been changed so many times that changing them again may not be the solution but definitely streamlining them and making it clearer as to who is responsible for what is very important task on hand for the new HSE CEO. Again the failure to do this in the first five years is evident in the child death number fiasco and the recent acknowledgment by Brendan Drumm that it’ll be another two yeas before child welfare/protection services are standardised.

The whole public service landscape is up for ‘radical change’ if the Croke Park deal is passed. Assuming its passed and we will know next Wednesday, then we will just be getting to the start line.

Achieving the change outlined in the Croke Park deal will require a very different way of working eg instead of closing beds or wards, the HSE will need to get rid of other inefficiencies in the system. It is a very difficult task but better than any of the other alternatives on offer. It seems that if anyone is up for that ‘radical reform’ in the health service then Cathal Magee might well be the man for the job…

Susan O’Reilly, the new cancer chief, has a more than impressive cv. She is extremely well qualified, high powered, described as being ‘at the top of her game’. Currently she is Vice President of Cancer Care in British Columbia, Canada where she is responsible for strategy, financial planning and delivery of both medical and operational components of all clinical programmes for cancer patients in the five Cancer Agency centres. She is the clinical Professor of Medical Oncology for past 13 years.

Originally from Wales, she studied medicine in Trinity and trained Dublin before moving to specialise in oncology in Vancouver. She is a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland and of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and her current interests are in provision of timely, high quality cancer control services and innovative programs in complex health care systems. She will take up her new appointment in early Sept 2010.

It is really good to see another woman at HSE management table. Currently there are two so this will raise the gender balance to 3 out of the 11. Apparently she is a great character and fantastic fun and well able for anyone… eg someone said she’d be very lively and able for politicians (Opposition ones) at Oireachtas Committee meetings.

Interesting times ahead for the Irish health system, hopefully..…


One Response

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  1. Margaret said, on June 6, 2010 at 10:33 pm

    Cathal Magee’s resignation from the EBS Board was called for at their recent AGM as he had been there since 2002 when the EBS was profitable to when the society announced losses of almost €100 million in 2009. Mr Magee had served on the Credit control committee for key years and members felt he should take responsibility and resign. The Chairman of the meeting refused members calls for Mr Magee to address the meeting.

    It was bizarre being at the EBS AGM and hearing about Mr Magee there and later in the day hearing that he is taking over the HSE.

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