Press Release

Minister for Health announces new Director General for the HSE

27 July 2012

The Minister for Health Dr James Reilly has today (Friday, 27th July 2012) announced the new Director General designate for the Health Service Executive. Mr Tony O’Brien will formally assume the position of Director General once the new Governance Legislation* is passed by the Oireachtas in the autumn. In the meantime, as Director General designate, he will work closely with all relevant figures in the HSE in preparing for the new Directorate structure which is being established under that legislation.

The Chief Executive of the HSE Mr Cathal Magee last week announced his intention to step down from the CEO position and will do so shortly. At that time Mr O’Brien is expected to become the Acting Chief Executive.  Mr O’Brien will remain in that position until the Governance legislation is passed at which time he will formally become the Director General and the post of Chief Executive will cease to exist.

Over the last year Tony O’Brien has been the Chief Operating Officer of the Special Delivery Unit. The unit, working in close cooperation with frontline health personnel across the country, has produced notable progress on issues such as trolley numbers and waiting lists. Among the many other significant contributions made by Tony O’Brien was as the Chief Advisor to the HSE on the implementation of the National Cancer Control Strategy. This Strategy has led to significant improvement in cancer care in the Irish health services. Mr O’Brien was also the Project Director for the National Plan for Radiation Oncology and the Director of BreastCheck. (A career summary is attached)

Speaking of his suitability to the task ahead Minister Reilly said “Tony O’Brien has demonstrated, in a range of different areas, a capability of implementing progress. As Chief Operating Officer of the Special Delivery Unit he has worked with stakeholders across the country to put in place measurable improvements. I am satisfied that Tony O’Brien has the qualities needed to drive the essential reform required to ultimately end our two-tier health system. He also has the strategic ability to manage an enhanced architecture of financial control now being placed in the HSE.”

The Minister added “the remainder of this year will be a very difficult one for our health services given our very considerable financial problems. But let me be clear that those problems will be managed on the basis that services will only be affected as a last resort. I also wish to state that the current financial difficulties will not be allowed to derail the central policy of this Government to produce a fairer, more effective and efficient health system as we move to Universal Health Insurance”.

“I would like to assure the staff of the HSE that the changes we intend to implement will result in a health service you can be proud of. I have full confidence that Tony O’Brien can lead the organisation through a period of significant change. And I am also confident that Government’s reforms will lead to a better service for patients and a better environment for staff to work in.”

“I also wish to thank Mr Cathal Magee for his commitment to the health service and acknowledge his contributions, including maintaining safe health services against the greatest of challenges; major reductions in funding, a significant exodus of staff and a moratorium imposed due to our fiscal difficulties”.

*Health Service Executive (Governance) Bill 2012.



Career Summary of Tony O’Brien

Tony O’Brien is 49, married with two children and lives in County Louth. He is Irish with his family hailing from Connemara, County Galway.

He currently holds a number of posts within the health services, as follows:-

  • Chief Operating Officer, Special Delivery Unit, Department of Health
  • CEO, National Treatment Purchase Fund
  • Member, HSE Board (since March 2012)
  • Chair, National Cancer Registry Board (from August 2009)
  • Adjunct Associate Professor, Health Policy and Management, Trinity College Dublin

Since July 2011, Tony has been the Chief Operating Office of the Special Delivery Unit in the Department of Health. The SDU is a key part of government plans to radically reform the health system in Ireland with the ultimate goal of introducing a system of Universal Health Insurance. Initially the SDU concentrated on reducing trolley waits in Emergency Departments and on cutting waiting lists in the health services. It will lead on the establishment of healthcare trusts in the acute sector. Since October 2011, he has been a member of the Management Advisory Committee of the Department of Health. Since December, 2011, he has held the post of Chief Executive Officer of the National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF).

From May 2011 to December 2011 Tony was Director, National Directorate, Clinical Strategy and Programmes in the HSE. The Clinical Strategy and Programmes Directorate (“the clinical programmes”) was established to improve and standardise patient care throughout the HSE by bringing together clinical disciplines and empowering them to share innovative evidence based solutions to deliver greater benefits to every user of HSE services.

Tony has held a number of posts in the cancer area:-

  • Chief Executive Officer, National Cancer Screening Service from January 2007 to May 2011
  • Director, Breastcheck, the National Breast Screening Programme from September 2002 to May 2011 and
  • Director, CervicalCheck, National Cervical Screening Programme from January 2007 to May 2011

Positions Tony has held in the HSE National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP) are

  1. Associate Director from October 2010 to May 2011
  2. Interim National Director from February 2010 to September 2010
  3. Deputy Director and Chief Operating Officer from November 2007 to February 2010
  4. Chief Advisor to the HSE on the implementation of the National Cancer Control Programme from May 2006 – Nov 2007.
  5. He also worked as Project Director of National Plan for Radiation Oncology from February 2006 to November 2007

Tony was Chief Executive of the Irish Family Planning Association from December 1991 to August 2002. He was also Chief Executive of the UK Family Planning Association from May 1995 to April 1996.

Educational Details


MSc in Management Practice

University of Dublin

Trinity College

Health Service Executive (Governance Bill 2012)

1. Background

The Programme for Government sets out a clear vision for the health services and the Government is committed to developing a universal, single-tier health service, which guarantees access to medical care based on need, not income.  Central to this is greater accountability for the HSE to the Minister for Health and the Department of Health.  That process has been ongoing since the Minister announced major changes in the composition of the HSE Board in April 2011 and signalled that the Board structure would be replaced.

2.Impact of the Bill

The Health Service Executive (Governance) Bill 2012 was published on 18 July.  The Bill provides for the abolition of the Board of the HSE under the Health Act 2004 and the putting in place of a new governance structure.  The Board will be replaced by a Directorate, headed by a Director General and with strengthened accountability arrangements for the HSE.

It is important to note that the legal status of the HSE under the Health Act 2004 does not change under the Bill and HSE employees will remain employees of the HSE.

3. Purpose of the Bill

The Programme for Government also commits to the eventual dissolution of the HSE as the healthcare reform programme advances.  The Directorate structure is therefore an interim measure, intended to put a place a more direct line of accountability between the HSE and the Minister during what will be a transitional period as the health reform programme progresses further.  The aim is to have a clear focus on service management during this transitional phase.

4.Composition of the Directorate

Under the Bill, the Directorate will consist of a Director General and other appointed directors.  To offer flexibility and allow the size of the governing structure to adapt to changing circumstances, the Bill does not specify a fixed number of members for the Directorate but instead provides for a maximum of seven and a minimum of 3 members, including the Director General who is automatically a member – and Chairperson- of the Directorate.

5. How the Directorate will work

The Directorate will be accountable to the Minister for the performance of the HSE’s functions as well as its own.  As Chairperson, the Director General will account to the Minister on behalf of the Directorate in regard to how the HSE’s functions are performed.  He or she will do this through the Secretary General of the Department of Health.

In anticipation of the legislative changes, the Minister intends that the HSE will recruit and appoint Heads of Health & Wellbeing, Hospitals, Primary Care, Mental Health and Social Care.  It is envisaged that the employees heading up these service areas and children’s services will be appointed as members of the Directorate.  The new governance and management structures will allow for re-organisation of services to prepare the way for the wider introduction of ‘money follows the patient’ and the ultimate introduction of Universal Health Insurance.

Photo of Tony O’Brien available here