The CEO of the Health Information and Quality Authority has told the Committee on Health and Children that the moratorium on public service recruitment is hugely challenging for the sector.

Dr Tracey Cooper conceded that sometimes there simply are not enough staff, however she reiterated that efficiencies and up-skilling was an area that needed to be looked at as a solution.

She said they were finding that in the example of colonoscopy tests, the main solution was not to add more staff but to ramp up the skills of existing staff.

In response to a number of questions, Dr Cooper said she wanted to make it clear to the Committee that HIQA had not recommended the closure of any services.

She said their job was about saying what services can be carried out safely and that a facility must carry out functions that it is able to carry out safely.

Dr Cooper said when it comes to designing health care in Ireland it has to be worked out on a national dimension first, then regional.

She also said HIQA was adamant that they are totally independent, their job was about safety and that they regulate the HSE.

However she said equally they were not trying to catch people or staff out as they were trying to improve care.

The committee Chair, Fine Gael’s Jerry Buttimer, asked if she was saying she did not have a cosy relationship with the HSE, which Dr Cooper said she absolutely did not.

On suggestions that rigging had taken place over which hospitals should provide certain services, she said that was not the case.

When asked about what HIQA investigates, Ms Cooper said it is based largely on information they receive from many quarters and that they decide and prioritise on that basis.

She gave the example of Mallow Hospital, saying that HIQA became convinced over a period of time that it merited investigation.

On ambulance services, Dr Cooper said HIQA had been working to improve this service.

Dr Cooper said she was very concerned about Denis Naughten's contention that ambulances ring a “control centre” which decides which hospital is less busy and sends it there, rather than to the hospital most appropriate for the problem.

She asked Deputy Naughten to furnish her with the details.

On closures, she reiterated that HIQA had not recommended the closure of hospitals.