THE impending departure of Paul Reid from the top spot at the much-maligned HSE seemed to have come as something of a surprise to some of our politicians and media. Much was made of the fact that Mr Reid had only been in the €420,000-salary position for just over three years. It appeared as if such a high-ranking role, coupled with the incredibly attractive remuneration package, should come with some sort of deed of loyalty.
It was almost as if Mr Reid should have been so thankful to have been awarded the position that he should have stuck with it a bit longer. But it’s easy to look at the figures on paper and think it was a somewhat short tenure at the head of the unforgiving agency that runs the health services in this country.
However, when you look at what the job involved since March 2020, you can see why the last 27 months were really the equivalent of several years of ‘normal’ time. Mr Reid had just got his feet under the desk of his successor – Tony O’Brien – when, basically, all hell broke loose in international healthcare.
Taking on the role after Mr O’Brien in itself was a feat of bravery and optimism. It might be forgotten now, given all that has happened since, but Mr O’Brien stepped down in the middle of one of the biggest scandals to hit the near-jinxed HSE – the cervical smear debacle.
Although Mr O’Brien left of his own accord, there was huge political pressure coming at him, if he hadn’t opted to go when he did, in May 2018. When the role was finally filled by Mr Reid, almost a year later, it was seen as very much the poisoned chalice.
And yet the Finglas-born former Eircom employee was quickly seen as a straight-talker and a man who had no fear of public speaking. He appeared to meet challenges head-on and while he had a mixed reception from HSE staff, he quickly became a darling of the media, with his willingness to tackle any subject, even in the middle of the darkest days of the Covid crisis.
He was seen by many non-healthcare members of the public as the reassuring voice of reason – admitting when challenges were ahead, when mistakes had been made, but always finding a silver lining to add to any negative news story. Here was a man who didn’t believe in sugar-coating the truth, yet he managed to reassure the Irish public that no matter how dreary the path ahead was, we would get to the end of the road eventually.
He was also a dab hand at social media, and seemed to be able to bat away criticism, from the most vicious, political stings, to the most trivial, with equal ease. He knew his working class Dublin accent had made him a target for those who didn’t think an individual from his background worthy of such lofty positions.
‘We all get a little bit of personal flack on Twitter,’ he tweeted in May 2020, ‘which can be fair enough ... sometimes. But my most amusing one of late is being slagged for my “inner city” Dublin accent. It’s completely unfair ... I’m a northsider!! (With a love of Leitrim of course!).
Always quick to mention his adopted county, from which he was commuting almost daily, he endeared himself to both toughened city folk and their country cousins. Now, while Ireland had one of the lowest death rates, per capita, from Covid-19, many people might still point to the other disastrous elements of the health service that have deteriorated, rather than improved, during his tenure. Reid’s supporters may say that three years was never long enough to tackle the big-ticket items like waiting lists and top-heavy management structures which, let’s face it, were a legacy from other administrations.
But whichever side of the fence you were on, it is hard to deny Reid’s general affability, his polite demeanour and his ability to give the impression he was always on top of his brief – even if you didn’t agree with his interpretation of the issues.
And now the baton will be passed to yet another, no doubt ambitious, and optimistic, administrator. Coming after two very big personalities, both completely different, whoever takes up the cudgel of the unwieldy behemoth that is the Irish health service, will have big shoes to fill. And deserves our optimism too. At least to begin with. Coming after two very big personalities, both completely different, whoever takes up the cudgel of the unwieldy behemoth that is the Irish health service, will have big shoes to fill. And deserves our optimism too. At least to begin with.