This newspaper first reported in September last year that the HSE had undertaken three recruitment campaigns to fill the post, but none had been successful.
This month, a HSE spokesperson told the <strong><em>Medical Independent</em></strong> (<strong><em>MI</em></strong>) that there had been no further recruitment drive and the Executive was “awaiting communication from the Department of Health on the future status of the post”.
The Executive spokesperson said the intention remains to fill the position. They added that HSE Assistant National Director, Health Protection, Dr Kevin Kelleher, has been working as interim Director and that situation would continue until the position is filled.
It is now more than two years since former post-holder Dr Darina O’Flanagan retired from the HPSC. Dr O’Flanagan retired on 6 May 2016. She was appointed Director of the predecessor of the HPSC, the NDSU (National Disease Surveillance Unit), in November 1998.
The third recruitment campaign to replace Dr O’Flanagan was undertaken by an external recruitment agency and involved “a lengthy international search in an attempt to identify suitably-qualified candidates to fill this post,” <strong><em>MI</em></strong> was told in September.
The HPSC plays a vital role in tackling increasingly complex and frequent threats to public health and concerns over the vacancy have been raised by the IMO and other stakeholders. The IMO has previously claimed that one of the contributing factors to the failure to fill the position is because terms and conditions for specialist public health medical staff are inferior to those of their hospital consultant colleagues.
Asked in September whether terms and conditions are an issue for filling the position, a HSE spokesperson told <strong><em>MI</em></strong> that “feedback from prospective candidates suggests that pay levels, specifically compared to other jurisdictions, is one issue, among other factors, impacting on interest in the role.
“Pay-related issues in terms of pay scales, etc, are outside the remit of the HSE to address and are a matter for the Department of Health and Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.”