Press Release

Bill to reform health services in Eastern Region is published

Mr. Brian Cowen, T.D., Minister for Health and Children, today (17 November 1998) announced the publication of the Health (Eastern Regional Health Authority) Bill, 1998, which proposes to radically reform the way in which the health services in Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow are planned, managed and delivered.

“The primary and overriding objective of this Bill is to achieve real improvements in the health and personal social services delivered to patients, clients and service users in the Eastern region.” the Minister said. “The second objective is to ensure, in a more accurate and accountable way than we can at present, that the £1.2bn spent annually on the health services in the Eastern region is providing the best possible value for money for the taxpayer.”

The Bill, which amounts to the most significant reform of health service structures since the establishment of the health boards in 1971, establishes the Eastern Regional Health Authority, to assume responsibility for all health and personal social services in Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow. It will replace the Eastern Health Board as the statutory body with responsibility for the health services, but its focus will be significantly different from that of the Board, concentrating on strategic planning, commissioning of services and overseeing the services provided.

Three Area Health Boards are also established under the Bill: the Northern Area Health Board, the South-Western Area Health Board and the East Coast Area Health Board. Each board will have responsibility for the delivery within its own area of the services currently being provided by the Eastern Health Board.

“I would be optimistic that the Authority and the three Area Health Boards could be established by September of next year”, the Minister said at the launch.

Membership of the new Authority will be broadly similar to that of a health board. Its overall membership will be 55, consisting of 30 local public representatives nominated by the local authorities in the region; 13 registered health professionals; 9 representatives of the voluntary sector and 3 nominees of the Minister. The members of the three Area Health Boards will be appointed from the membership of the Authority.

The Health (Eastern Regional Health Authority) Bill, 1998, will bring about a major change in the funding arrangements for the voluntary hospitals and agencies in the Eastern region. The introduction of service agreements between the Authority and the major voluntary providers will mean that the voluntary sector will be formally tied into the overall services in the region for the first time.

On the establishment of the Eastern Regional Health Authority, the Eastern Health Board will be dissolved and its staff will be transferred to the Authority. There is a specific provision in the Bill which ensures that the terms and conditions of employment of the Eastern Health Board staff transferred to the Authority will be fully protected.

The Minister paid tribute to the Chairman and the members of the Task Force on the Eastern Regional Health Authority, on whose recommendations the legislation is based. The Task Force has a mandate to manage and oversee the transition to the new arrangements and preparative work in this regard is already underway.