Health Board

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Health Board
Bord Sláinte
Logo of the Eastern Health Board
Logo of the Eastern Health Board
Publicly funded health service overview
Formed 1970
Dissolved 1 January 2005
Superseding agency Health Service Executive
Jurisdiction Republic of Ireland
Parent department Department of Health
Key document Health Act, 1970

The Health Board system of Ireland was created by the 1970 Health Act.[1] This system was initially created with eight health boards, each of which were prescribed a functional area in which they operated. The system was reformed in 1999 from eight to eleven regional bodies.

On 1 January 2005, the health boards were replaced by the Health Service Executive.


Prior to the advent of the health board system, the 1947 Health Act was the principal legislation on the State's role in the provision of healthcare in Ireland;[2] this was the act that served as the legislative basis for the Mother and Child Scheme, which was later withdrawn under Church and doctor opposition.

Under the 1947 act, the health authority for a functional area was the city council or county council of that area. This reflected the fact that until 1947, the Minister for Local Government and Public Health was responsible for public health, and in that year, the Minister for Health was created as a separate Minister of the Government by the 1946 Ministers and Secretaries (Amendment) Act.[3]

In 1970, the healthcare system of Ireland was still very much a private and voluntary system with the Catholic Church still retaining effective control of healthcare, in particular the ownership of hospitals and institutions. Doctors served very much in a sole trader capacity with the state taking few responsibilities beyond the organisation of the provision of healthcare to the disadvantaged.

Health Boards[edit]

In 1970, the Health Boards Regulations[4] were made under the Health Act, 1970 and defined among other things the functional area, membership and composition of each health board. Each health board was headed by a chief executive officer and more often assisted by an "ad hoc" management team consisting of professionals who were public servants.

Health Board Code Members Functional area
Eastern Health Board EHB 35 Dublin City, County Dublin, County Kildare, County Wicklow
Midland Health Board MHB 30 County Laois, County Offaly, County Longford, County Westmeath
Mid-Western Health Board MWHB 28 County Clare, Limerick City, County Limerick, Tipperary North Riding
North-Eastern Health Board NEHB 30 County Louth, County Meath, County Cavan, County Monaghan
North-Western Health Board NWHB 27 County Donegal, County Sligo, County Leitrim
South-Eastern Health Board SEHB 31 County Carlow, County Kilkenny, County Wexford, Waterford City, County Waterford, Tipperary South Riding
Southern Health Board SHB 33 Cork City, County Cork, County Kerry
Western Health Board† WHB 29 County Galway, County Mayo, County Roscommon
†In 1990, the functional area was changed to explicitly include the Galway City and as a result two board members were added to the board in accordance with the 1990 Health Boards (Amendment) Regulations.[5] This change was due to the city obtaining county borough status on 1 January 1986 and thus the need for representation on the health board which had continued to be de facto responsible for health within the city in the interim period.

1999 Reforms[edit]

The Eastern Health Board was the first health board dissolved, it served almost half the population of the state and covered the smallest geographical area of the then eight existent health boards.

In the late 1990s, the counties of Dublin, Kildare and Wicklow represented almost half of the population of the state and had only one health board, the Eastern Health Board. The rest of the state was served by seven health boards, each with a designated functional area. The 1999 Health (Eastern Regional Health Authority) Act was introduced and dissolved the Eastern Health Board and created four bodies in its place, thus bringing to eleven the number of regional health authorities and boards.[6]

The Eastern Regional Health Authority (ERHA) was given overall responsibility for the former health board functional area, however the actual provision of services was delegated to three area health boards. These area health boards were; the Northern Area Health Board (NAHB), East Coast Area Health Board (ECAHB) and the South-Western Area Health Board (SWAHB).

The functional areas of the area health boards did not correspond exactly to the city and county council boundaries and instead were defined in the First Schedule of the Act.[7] The 1999 Eastern Regional Health Authority (Area Health Boards) Regulations[8] determined the composition of the board of each area health board. The composition of the Eastern Regional Health Authority was determined by the act.


Chief among the criticisms of the health board system was that of political patronage. Typically about half of the board members were appointed by the city or county councils of the functional area; and the Minister for Health appointed three members on each board. The cumulative effect was that over half of the board members were, in effect, appointed by local and national government; the nominated board members were often the aspiring members of political parties.

This method of nomination and selection was often considered to be the core problem of the healthcare system; poor accountability and service provision due to the politicised nature of the system which meant that decisions were made on political needs rather than professional teams deciding on medical need and weighing factors like value for money.

Additional members were appointed by election by registered chemists, doctors, dentists, and nurses who practised in the functional area.


External links[edit]