Grillo, from the populist Five Star Movement, wrote on Facebook that it was “time to give space to the new” after sacking the 30 board members unexpectedly with a formal letter yesterday.
“We are the #governmentofchange and, as I have already done with the appointments of the various organs and committees of the ministry, I have chosen to open the door to other deserving personalities,” she wrote.
Giulia Grillo's facebook post. Screenshot.
The outgoing president of the board, Roberta Siliquini, and some of the other 29 dismissed members said they were taken by surprise by the move, although they noted that the minister had not once asked them for an opinion, or even arranged a meeting, since she took office six months ago.
“I take note of the minister's decision, she has her prerogative,” Siliquini, who is head of the school of hygiene and preventive medicine at the University of Turin, told Italian media.
“It would have been a courtesy to meet us at least once since she took office, six months ago, but we have never seen the minister,” said Siliquini, who added that she could see “no scientific reason” behind the decision.
“I would like to thank extraordinary colleagues and excellent scientists who for four years have worked hard, with rigor and competence, and free of charge for the country.”
The board members will now be replaced by candidates chosen by Grillo.
The members are nominated every three years and, though a change in government often means some members are replaced, no health minister has ever before dismissed an entire board.
Grillo said in her Facebook post that some of the revoked board members “could be reappointed”, but “not the leaders – who must have the trust of and be in full harmony with the minister in charge.”
The Five Star Movement (M5S) is well known for its low regard for expert opinions, which is particularly worrying for medical professionals as the party has a track record of supporting unfounded claims.
The party was a vocal supporter of Stamina, a controversial stem-cell therapy promoted by a now-disgraced psychologist. It was later proven to be a scam.
M5S has also been heavily criticised for its role in raising doubts over the efficacy of vaccinations. A law proposal put forward by the party in 2014 called for “better information and possible denial of administering vaccinations” and cited the debunked studies.
Italy was one of the countries where discredited claims of a link between the combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination and autism had a significant impact on public perceptions of the safety of the jab.
Since taking office, Grillo has caused widespread confusion by making several U-turns on the government’s mandatory child vaccine policy.