Northern Ireland

Belfast Health Trust could be without chief executive until next year

Bill Maher Image copyright other
Image caption Described by colleagues as a dynamic person with huge energy, Mr Maher is known to be a problem solver

Northern Ireland's largest health trust could be without a chief executive until next year, the BBC understands.

In July, Bill Maher, the chief executive of the West/North West Hospitals Group in the Republic of Ireland, was offered the top job in the Belfast Trust but turned it down.

It will be the second time the position has been advertised since it became vacant in April.

It could mean the trust being without a leader up until the start of 2015.

In the meantime the trust's financial director Martin Dillon will act as interim chief executive.

The career move would have seen Mr Maher and his family moving to Northern Ireland to allow him to head-up one of the UK's largest health and social care trusts.

While it is understood Mr Maher cited not wanting to relocate his family, other sources have told the BBC that he was made a much more attractive offer which will see him playing a more prominent role in the Republic of Ireland's health service at national level.

Described by colleagues as a dynamic person with huge energy, Mr Maher is known to be a problem solver.

A former colleague told the BBC that the health leader's "hands-on, no-nonsense approach" would be appealing to any organisation, but especially to those trying to solve the ongoing problems at the struggling Belfast health trust.

Originally from Tullow, County Carlow, Mr Maher took up the post of chief executive of the West/ North West Hospitals Group in 2012.

Since being offered the top post in the Belfast Trust, he has now accepted a new contract with the Republic of Ireland's Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which means that 20% of his time will be managing at a national level.

The extended role will involve him working closely with the national director of acute hospitals on strategic national issues across the country.

And it seems that enhanced role was what swayed his decision.

Pivotal role

As one source told the BBC, just before he signed on the new dotted line, it struck Irish government officials that Mr Maher was just too good to lose.

His new role will be pivotal in leading the change from hospital "groups" in the Republic of Ireland to "trusts".

This is a huge national programme reforming all hospital services.

While his role has increased, as a result of the government deciding to scrap top-up fees paid to health chief executives, by staying in the Republic of Ireland Mr Maher's salary will decrease slightly.

It is understood if he had accepted the top job in the Belfast Trust that his salary would have increased by up to 40,000 euros (£31,725).

Image caption It was announced in May that Dr Tony Stevens, who was formerly the Belfast Health Trust's medical director, was taking over the top job at the Northern Health and Social Care Trust


Six candidates applied for the post in July and, the BBC understands, it was quickly shortlisted to just two candidates.

The Belfast Health and Social Care Trust will now launch a second competition to appoint a chief executive.

While a spokesperson for the Belfast Trust told the BBC it was happy with the response to the previous competition for the post, unless it goes outside Northern Ireland the health trust and the Department of Health may find it difficult to fill the post.

The successful applicant will be required to manage an annual budget of approximately £1bn, manage around 22,000 employees and represent a trust that has been under unprecedented pressure.

In the meantime the trust's director of finance has been appointed as the interim chief executive until further notice.

Also, Dr Cathy Jack has replaced Dr Tony Stevens as the Belfast trust's medical director.

Dr Stevens has moved to the Northern Health and Social Care Trust as its new chief executive.

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