Rotunda process used to pick next master ‘needs to be challenged’

The process used by the Rotunda Hospital to select its next master “needs to be challenged” due to concerns raised over a lack of gender balance, according to a leading obstetrician.

Louise Kenny, a former professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at Cork University Maternity Hospital (CUMH), said she has been contacted by “dozens” of doctors from obstetrics/gynaecology and other areas who are “outraged” over the process used by the hospital to select its next master.

The hospital last week ratified the appointment of Prof Sean Daly as its 40th master after an interview panel picked him ahead of two female professors from the Rotunda.

The panel comprised nine men, three women and one female HR manager who was not involved in marking the candidates. It included the current master, Prof Fergal Malone, who is a business partner of Prof Daly in a private antenatal clinic.

The board of the hospital has described the process as rigorous and said laws on public service appointments were adhered to fully.

Asked about the controversy, Prof Keelin O’Donoghue of CUMH said obstetrics and gynaecology, “largely for and comprised of women, should be an exemplar of gender equity in clinical and academic medicine. Yet in Ireland, as in other countries, men disproportionately occupy leadership positions and still tend to dominate in setting public and professional opinion in this speciality.”

Prof Kenny, who is now executive pro vice-chancellor at the University of Liverpool, described the board’s assertion that it complied with codes on public service recruitment as a “red herring”. “Many organisations, including the RCSI which was represented on the panel, have clear guidance in place on gender balance in interview processes.”

She said many doctors were dismayed at what had happened in the Rotunda but were afraid to speak out for fear of “blowback” that could affect their future career prospects.

Codes of practice

The Rotunda says the interview panel “worked to” the codes of practice published by the Commission for Public Service Appointments.

These require a public body to carry out a “fair, transparent, merit-based and universally designed” recruitment and selection process, and to provide a review and complaints process.

“The commission expects that equality, diversity and inclusion form part of all decisions and processes related to a competition,” the code states.

Candidates who are unhappy following a selection process can seek a review under section 7 of the code if they believe the decision was made on incorrect information.

Alternatively, they can seek a section 8 review, where they believe the selection process itself was unfair.

They are encouraged first to make an informal complaint to the public body, but this has to be done within five days.

In 2020, the commission received 192 requests for a review under section 7 and 42 complaints under section 8.

Prof Jennifer Donnelly and Prof Maeve Eogan, the two unsuccessful candidates who have publicly expressed their disappointment at the outcome of the process, have said they are awaiting HR feedback on their interviews.

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