Reilly's special adviser paid €160,000 for 'time commitment of 80%'

The Minister for Health's special adviser Martin Connor is paid €160,000 a year for 80% of his time. By Sara Burke.

Minister James Reilly’s much-heralded special adviser Martin Connor, who is the most senior health policy adviser in the Department of Health’s Special Delivery Unit, is also a research fellow in Stanford University, in the heart of the Silicon Valley in California. Connor’s position was announced last June, when he was initially appointed for six months. According to responses from the Department of Health on 16 February 2012, “On foot of a Government Decision the services of Dr Martin Connor were re-engaged on a contract for services basis on an all in fixed price of €480,000 (incl expenses). Dr Connor’s contract for service is for the period 04 December 2011 to 03 December 2014.” That means he is being paid €160,000 a year for three years. When appointed as special adviser, Martin Connor was also appointed to the HSE’s Interim Board.



Martin Connor’s role is an important one as he is the most senior ‘expert’ in the Special Delivery Unit, which is “a key part of the plans to radically reform the health system with the ultimate goal of introducing a system of Universal Health Insurance.” When introduced on 1 June 2011, the minister said that Connor would report directly to him and would concentrate on reducing trolley wait times in Emergency Departments and cutting waiting times for public patients.

The minister, alongside Martin Connor and Tony O’Brien, held a press briefing two weeks ago to report on progress made by the Special Delivery Unit in Emergency Departments and new targets for wait times. And early figures indicate some progress has been made in the intractable areas of trolleys and long waiting lists. Such progress is very welcome.

Martin Connor comes with good credentials - he is credited with reducing wait times for treatment in Northern Ireland, when he was special policy adviser to the Department of Health there from 2005 to 2008. Previously he worked as director of health reform in the greater Manchester Strategic Authority.

He is now Harkness Fellow in Health Care Policy and Practice in Stanford University, where he is studying integrated care and its potential for health reform.

Word was out in the health system that Martin Connor worked here just eight days out of 24 and was based in California. When I asked the Department of Health how much of his time was dedicated to his SDU work and where he was based, I was told: ‘The time commitment is of the order of 80%. Dr Connor is currently completing a research fellowship in Stanford University. He is in Ireland for two weeks a month on average but also conducts work by teleconference on a daily basis.” Teleconferences on a daily basis must be difficult given the time difference between California and Dublin.

There is no questioning Martin Connor’s track record. Having sat through two long press briefings with him in October and January, he is impressive, comes across as someone on top of his brief and early indicators are that progress is being made in hospital wait times.

However, given that he is paid €160,000 for 80% of his time, that means his annual earnings are equivalent to €200,000 per annum, higher than any other ministerial adviser and well above the cap set by the government that hired him. And he is not in Ireland “on average” half of the time.