The huge facade of Hawkin’s House in Dublin, the headquarters of the Department of Health and Children, reflects the wide remit of the department that incorporates its Minister Mary Harney and four Ministers of State who attend all Cabinet meetings.
The department deals with administration and parliamentary issues such as formulating policy, providing direction on national health priorities, monitoring and evaluating policies to ensure quality and value for money, checking for financial, managerial and clinical accountability and fulfilling the state’s obligations in relation to international organisations such as the World Health Organisation, the European Union and the North-South Ministerial Council. The 475 staff also deal with parliamentary questions, ministerial appearances, Dáil and Seanad debates, and preparing briefings and speeches for their ministers and the Taoiseach.
The Office of the Minister of State for Children and Youth (OMSCY) “harmonises” policy that affects children in early childhood care and education; youth justice; welfare and protection; research, and youth work. Children’s Minister Barry Andrews is a former history teacher and qualified barrister.
The Office of the Minister for Older People and Health Promotion develops future policies, programmes and services such as nursing home care for older people in Ireland. It is headed by Áine Brady.
The Office of the Minister of State for Equality, Disability Issues and Mental Health implements the Disability Act 2005, develops services for disabled people and those with mental health problems, liaises with voluntary agencies, is involved in relevant court cases, organises training, education and work for disabled people and oversees the Mental Health Commission. It is headed by John Moloney.
The Office of the Minister of State for Food and Horticulture evaluates the Health Service Executive (HSE) in relation to food safety, medicines and environmental health and controls the licensing, supply and usage of medicine. Trevor Sargent heads this office.
The overall health budget in 2009 was €15,468 million. The department itself received €480 million. The OMSCY received €389 million and the HSE, whose job is to manage the health services and fund the construction of hospitals, received €14,599 million.
The department was created in 1947 with Fianna Fáil TD James Ryan as the first Minister. The other four offices were established in 2005.
In terms of introducing new legislation, the Department of Health and Children has had 15 Bills sponsored by Minister Harney enacted since 2005, including the controversial medical card Bill. More new laws are being prepared in line with budget cuts.
As well as the HSE, the department works with external organisations such as the Health Information and Quality Authority, Voluntary Health Insurance, the Irish Medicines Board, the Irish Blood Transfusion Service, the Food Safety Authority, the Health Research Board and the National Treatment Purchase Fund, to ensure the service they deliver is in line with the Minister’s policy requirements.
The department also works with the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform on forensic mental health services and misuse of alcohol, the Department of Education and Science on disability and school health promotion, the Department of Agriculture and Food on food safety, and the Department of Transport on road safety.
Like health departments in most governments, it is recognised as a challenging portfolio that is not always media friendly. The Minister has been lambasted for the ‘fair deal’ nursing home scheme and restricting medical cards. However she has been praised by some commentators for proposing a prescription charge which will lead to a reduction in the waste of tax-payers’ money which has been common-place over the years because of the practice of administering unnecessary repeat prescriptions.
The department has begun working with the HSE to enhance both their image and give a clearer description of the nature of health and personal social services being provided to the people of the country.
Department of Health and Children
Health Minister Mary Harney (Progressive Democrat)
Ministers of State
Children and Youth: Barry Andrews (FF)
Older People: Áine Brady (FF)
Equality, Disability and Mental Health: John Moloney (FF)
Food and Horticulture: Trevor Sergant (Greens)
Secretary General: Michael Scanlan
Chief Medical Officer: Dr Tony Holohan
Chief Executive, HSE: Brendan Drumm
Tags: Departmental dossier