Dublin-based professor Mary Horgan named interim chief medical officer

Medic, who served on served on National Public Health Emergency Team during pandemic, replaces Breda Smyth

Prof Mary Horgan has been appointed interim Chief Medical Officer (CMO) at the Department of Health by Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly.

The role has been vacant since Prof Breda Smyth left the role at the end of May, after just 18 months in the position.

Having qualified in medicine in 1995, Prof Horgan is Professor of Infectious Diseases at University College Dublin and the Mater Misericordiae Hospital.

Previously Dean of the Medical School in University College Cork (UCC), she was elected as the first female President of the Royal College of Physicians since its founding in 1654 and was re-elected to serve her second term in 2020.

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She has held various roles in the health service and led the expert advisory group on rapid testing, which recommended widespread use of the tests. She also served on the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In November 2023, Prof Horgan was appointed by the Mr Donnelly to lead the design of a new emerging health threats agency.

Speaking following Cabinet approval of Prof Horgan’s appointment, Mr Donnelly said the CMO plays a “a critical role” in developing policy and legislation regarding patient safety, quality in health care, and in developing strategies to support and improve population health.

“Throughout her career, and more recently in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic and her work on Nphet, Prof Mary Horgan has demonstrated the experience, expertise and strong and effective leadership skills that are required for the role of CMO,” he said.

“I want to thank her for taking up this interim appointment and look forward to working with her in the Department as we continue our focus on strengthening and improving Ireland’s preparedness for health threats and protecting and improving population health.”

Speaking following her appointment, Prof Horgan said she was “honoured” to be taking up the role.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Department of Health and to bringing my national and international experience in healthcare to support the Department’s mission to improve the health and wellbeing of the people in Ireland,” she added.

The department has suffered an exodus of senior staff since the end of the pandemic. Key medical posts have been left unfilled, despite the gaps in Ireland’s pandemic preparedness exposed by Covid-19.

Prof Smyth was appointed acting chief medical officer at the Department of Health in July 2022, taking over from Dr Tony Holohan, who spent 14 years in the role. In November 2022, she was permanently appointed to the post, and she vacated it in May 2024.

Last year, an advertisement seeking expressions of interest within the Health Service Executive for the vacant deputy CMO posts yielded no applications.

The CMO, who is paid €202,000 a year, reports directly to department secretary general Robert Watt and serves as “an integral member of the senior management team”, according to the department.

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers

Shauna Bowers is Health Correspondent of The Irish Times