Press Release

Top International Expert Joins The SDU

Health Minister James Reilly is today (Weds 1st June 2011) pleased to announce that Dr Martin Connor, the renowned international expert, with a proven track record in health service improvement, has been appointed to the new Special Delivery Unit (SDU).

The development of the Special Delivery Unit is a key part of plans to radically reform the health system in Ireland with the ultimate goal of introducing a system of Universal Health Insurance. Dr Connor, who will report to Minister Reilly, will concentrate on reducing trolley waits in Emergency Departments and on cutting waiting lists in the health services.

The SDU will be a crucial “agent for change” allowing for a improvement in the operation of structures across the system. Its success will allow for an alteration in the current role of the NTPF. Its resources will be re-focused to align closely with the work of the SDU, and crucially will allow for a progressive improvement in the performance of the nation’s hospitals. The NTPF has welcomed the new initiative and has confirmed it will work proactively with the Unit to achieve the best possible result for patients.

The Minister will also appoint Dr. Connor to the Board of the HSE. This will act as an important means for him to engage with the HSE clinical programmes, which use the expertise of medical and other professionals to improve the efficiency of services for patients.

Between 2005 and 2008, as a Special Adviser in the Department of Health in Northern Ireland, Dr Connor affected a major reduction in waiting lists for elective assessment and treatment. He was also instrumental in securing the increased involvement of clinical professionals in decision making. He also developed a patient-level information base to support strategic decision making.

Dr Connor’s appointment as the Senior Advisor to the SDU is made on foot of a decision by the Cabinet yesterday. Dr Connor’s mission is clear – to design and implement the operation of the Special Delivery Unit. Dr Connor will begin his work in the Department of Health and will establish the Special Delivery Unit in a manner that will allow for a maximum positive impact on the operation of the health services in Ireland.

Commenting on today’s appointment Dr Reilly said “I am delighted to welcome Dr Martin Connor to his vital role establishing the SDU. Since being appointed as Minister for Health I have been involved in a wide range of consultation aimed at establishing the SDU. While Dr Martin Connor will have the task of designing and implementing the precise template on which the organisation will work, many other assets and individuals have been identified as having a role to play in the SDU. I am pleased to say that Dr Connor’s appointment not only represents his own personal involvement in the project but also allows us to draw on a range of other international resources at his disposal to help refine the development and the operation of the SDU.”


Programme for Government

The Programme for Government says that “a Special Delivery Unit will be established in the Department of Health to assist the Minister in reducing waiting lists and introducing a major upgrade in the IT capabilities of the health system”. The SDU has been prioritised during the first 100 days of the Government’s term, and today’s announcement delivers on the commitment to set it up.

Dr. Martin Connor

Dr. Martin Connor was a special policy adviser to the Department of Health in Northern Ireland from 2005-08, where he established the Service Delivery Unit. This transformed waiting times for elective assessment and treatment, increased the involvement of clinical professionals in decision making and developed a novel timely patient level information base to support strategic decision making.

Prior to his work in Northern Ireland Dr Connor was the Deputy Chief Executive and Director of Strategic Commissioning and Performance at Trafford Primary Care Trust in Manchester. He is currently a Harkness Fellow in Health Care Policy and Practice in Stanford University. He holds a PhD from Durham University.

SDU priorities

The SDU’s priorities, set by the Minister will encompass:

  • Emergency Departments – waiting times for admission have been unacceptably high in a number of hospitals, often breaching the current 6-hour maximum waiting time target
  • In-patient waiting times – the trend has been upwards recently, despite the work of the NTPF
  • Out-patient waiting times – the time from GP referral to an appointment with a consultant is unacceptably long in many specialties
  • Access to diagnostics – this forms an essential part of the patient journey for all of the areas of access above.


Listen to the press briefing – Click above to play (38 minutes approx)