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RCSI CEO pens letter to the Editor of the Irish Times

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  • Bahrain

On Saturday, 25 June 2011, Professor Cathal Kelly, CEO of RCSI wrote a letter to the Editor of the Irish Times outlining RCSI's stance in relation to Bahrain.

Read the full letter below:

RCSI fully respects the unequivocal right of all doctors to practice as enshrined in the Geneva Convention. We are very aware of and concerned about the plight of those detained in Bahrain. RCSI is a not for profit organization. Our mandate is to focus on education in the health sciences. We are internationally-focused, working in Africa, the Middle East and Far East as well as in Ireland. Many of the countries have very different cultures and are at different stages in their political evolution. This diversity is a challenge that faces all organisations that work overseas. 

Since the beginning of these events we have endeavoured to ensure the safety of our 900 students and 100 staff in Bahrain, to enable our students to complete their programmes and to advocate for the rights of the arrested healthcare professionals. Our approach has been guided by what we have judged to be most effective in Bahrain. In support of this approach we have chosen to minimize public statements in Ireland. 

We have attached considerable importance to ensuring the continuity of the education of our students. When the situation first escalated in February, we temporarily suspended teaching and staff continued to attend the University maintaining it as a focus for our students. We developed an evacuation plan and when the situation deteriorated we evacuated students and staff who wished to leave. A core group of staff remained in Bahrain to maintain the University and to set up and staff a temporary A&E unit for the local population in Muharraq. We developed contingency plans to ensure that irrespective of political unrest, our final medical year students would graduate on time. A delay in graduation for this class would mean a full year of lost employment at a pivotal time in their career. 

Last week 53 medical doctors and 70 nurses graduated as originally scheduled. It was important that the graduation take place as a tribute to the commitment and courage of these young people. Many of these students are the first members of their family to attend a University and to obtain a degree. This degree is an avenue to an infinitely better future for them and their families. 

Medical practice is a privilege which carries rights and responsibilities. Doctors have a responsibility to treat all patients, irrespective of their background, to the highest possible standard, under all circumstances. 

Hospitals must be politically neutral. Society has a responsibility to allow doctors and nurses to treat all patients in need. The protection and care of people wounded in conflict is a basic right guaranteed by the Geneva Convention. Punishing doctors or nurses for treating patients, irrespective of their background, is completely unacceptable. The World Medical Association’s International Code of Medical Ethics and its Medical Ethics Manual define the duties of physicians as including the administration of emergency care and adhering to principles of nondiscrimination. Governments should not infringe upon the duties of medical professionals and should not target or punish those who seek to uphold these internationally recognised principles. 

On six separate visits to Bahrain since February I have met with senior Ministers. The focus of these meetings was to express our deep concerns for the rights of the detained medical personnel. 

The future for Bahrain has to be one of dialogue and reconciliation. Our own national story tells us that this will not be resolved quickly. We will continue to contribute through education and continue to advocate for just outcomes. 

Cathal Kelly