Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said two of the senior people who recently resigned from the Sláintecare reform programme did not raise any of their frustrations with him indicating that they planned to quit.

However, the Secretary General of the Department of Health has told the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health that he was aware that Laura Magahy planned to resign before she stepped down, but did not inform the minister.

Robert Watt told the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health that he did not inform the minister.

But he did tell the department's HR manager.

Mr Donnelly and Secretary General Robert Watt appeared before the committee to discuss the controversy over the Sláintecare reform programme.

The programme is a ten-year reform plan to bring in a single-tiered health system and end private care in public hospitals.

In recent weeks, it has seen the resignation of high profile members who have raised concerns about the progress of reforms.

Ms Magahy, the full-time Executive Director of Sláintecare, and Professor Tom Keane, the Chairperson of the Council, resigned in September.

Professor Anthony O'Connor resigned from the Sláintecare Implementation Advisory Council last week.

A new board to replace the Sláintecare Implementation Advisory Council (SIAC) is to be put in place and will be co-chaired by the Health Service Executive CEO Paul Reid and Mr Watt.

This comes despite calls from some members of the council that it be allowed to continue its work.

Committee Chair, Sinn Féin's Sean Crowe, asked if the minister was saying that SIAC "has run its course".

Minister Donnelly agreed that this was his view.

There are no patient representatives on the new body.

Asked if it should get their views, Minister Donnelly conceded, "I think it's a fair point. I think it's something to reflect on".

Róisín Shortall, co-leader of the Social Democrats, said excluding patients was "an extraordinary oversight".

She warned that we are witnessing "a hostile takeover of Sláintecare."

There is an attempt to suffocate it, and embed it in the Department of Health, Deputy Shortall said.

The minister insisted that policy direction will be set at the highest level, but reform "has to involve people right around the system" to succeed.

He also told the committee that Ms Magahy and Prof Keane did not "raise any frustrations" with him.

"Neither sought a meeting with me," he said.

Their resignations were the first indication he had of that.

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Minister Donnelly later clarified, "I have no doubt that [Laura Magahy] will have shared frustrations with me".

He pointed out that they worked "about four doors" away from each other.

"With regards to her resignation, however, no. The first that I was aware that it had escalated for her to that level was when she came to tell me that she was resigning", he said.

The Minister later added: "It wasn't that she indicated that she was about to resign. She informed me that she had resigned".

However, Robert Watt recounted that the week before, "Laura said she was going to move on. I said fine."

"She said she wanted to talk to the Minister herself", Mr Watt said, adding that he respected that.

"You informed the HR manager but you didn't inform the Minister?", Deputy Shortall asked.

Mr Watt agreed that this is what he had done.

"We have six resignations from Sláintecare", Sinn Féin TD David Mr Cullinane noted, all apparently "for no reason whatsoever".

"And yet we are led to believe that the minister had no idea" there were any problems, or differences of opinion, Mr Cullinane said.

He suggested to Mr Watt that this was difficult to comprehend, and questioned the Government's "nothing to see here" attitude.

"I haven't said, 'there is nothing to see here'," Mr Watt countered.

Fine Gael TD Colm Burke said many people think that the flurry of resignations were "forced" by "resistance" to reform within the department.

Mr Donnelly said he was "somewhat puzzled" by Prof Keane's claim that there was "resistance to change".

"What I see right across the system is change," the minister said.

However, the minister did accept that "there has been damage done" by the resignations.

Stephen Donnelly accepted that there is a "perception among some that change is not happening".

Throughout the session, he repeatedly cited the statistic that 97% of Sláintecare's projects are reportedly on track.

"Is this a system that wants to reform, that is capable of reform? 100%", the minister said.

Robert Watt also told the committee that, on the issue of regionalisation, "there were no differences of opinion" between the department and Ms Magahy.

Minister Donnelly said regionalisation is "probably the highest risk element of our reform programme."

"Essentially we are talking about merging community and acute care", he said.