Dáil Éireann - Volume 610 - 22 November, 2005

Written Answers. - Health Service Executive.

  148. Ms C. Murphy asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children if there are guidelines in place as to the timeframe within which the parliamentary affairs division of the Health Service Executive must reply to parliamentary questions referred to them by her Department in view of the fact that there are strict deadline protocols in place for parliamentary questions themselves; if such guidelines do not exist she will introduce a system in order to ensure that the accountability of the Health Service Executive to Dáil Éireann is not compromised; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [35108/05]

  300. Mr. Durkan asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children the way in which it is proposed to achieve accountability to Dáil Éireann by her Department in view of the fact that parliamentary questions put to her and her Department are referred to the Health Service Executive for reply; if it is intended that the chief executive of the Health Service Executive will come into Dáil Éireann to reply to such questions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [35668/05]

  Ms Harney: I propose to take Questions Nos. 148 and 300.

Prior to the establishment of the Health Service Executive, parliamentary questions concerning access to services, by individuals or in specific geographic areas, were referred to the chief executive officer of the relevant health board ERHA for direct reply.

[1248] Pursuant to the Health Act 2004, the functions of the health boards-ERHA were transferred to the HSE. Under the Act, the HSE has responsibility to manage and deliver, or arrange to have delivered on its behalf, health and personal social services. The establishment of the HSE brought into being a new unitary system for the delivery and management of health services at local, regional and national level. The move to the new structure presented an opportunity for an improved service for providing information to Oireachtas Members. Last April the HSE established a parliamentary affairs division which provides a central contact for all Oireachtas requests for information relating to matters within the statutory remit of the executive.

The executive has guidelines in place as to the timeframe within which final replies should issue direct to Deputies in relation to queries raised in parliamentary questions. In that connection, the executive aims to operate within a timeframe of twenty working days from the date of answer of a parliamentary question. This timeframe reflects the arrangements which the former health boards-ERHA had adopted prior to the HSE’s establishment. This is a starting point and the HSE is committed to reducing this period as it develops its organisational and information capacity going forward. The HSE endeavours to provide more immediate responses in instances where the information sought in the question is of a routine nature or is readily available.

The Health Act 2004 provides that the chief executive officer shall, at the written request of an Oireachtas committee, attend before it to give an account of the general administration of the executive. Since its establishment on 1 January 2005, HSE senior management personnel have attended before Oireachtas committees on five occasions and the chief executive is due to attend the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health and Children on 24 November.

I am satisfied that, in the organisational arrangements currently being made to complete the transition to the unitary system, due importance and attention is being given by the HSE’s parliamentary affairs division to enhancing that organisation’s capacity to respond in an efficient and timely manner to parliamentary questions from Members of the Oireachtas.