A message from the President of RCSI

26 February 2021

Dear Fellows and Members,

It is hard to credit that next Thursday will be a year since the Sylvester O’Halloran Meeting was cancelled at short notice because a case of COVID-19 had been diagnosed in Limerick University Hospital. Within a further week, the then Taoiseach had announced closure of schools and universities and the country entered the now familiar ‘level 5’ restrictions.

If we knew then what we know now, would we as a nation have managed differently? We are where we are, but what is the future? A commentary in this week’s Lancet (Lancet 2021; 397: 777-778) makes interesting reading. Much depends on the evolution of SARS-CoV-2, how citizens behave, vaccine availability and the extent of international collaboration. Viruses, as we have come to realise, know no boundaries, thus unless and until high levels of immunity are achieved across the world, we must continue essential containment and prevention measures.

Are there any positives, a question often asked. In the medical domain inevitably the answer is transformation in communication, video conferencing and telemedicine. Access to information and education has been democratised as illustrated by the 3,000 delegates who registered for the recent RCSI Charter Meeting and the 5,075 transition year students who this week attended RCSI’s TY Mini-Med, Mini-Pharmacy and Mini-Physiotherapy programmes – both more than ten-fold the usual number of participants. New formats of blended post-graduate and continuing education have evolved. The ‘new normal’ will see much less travel and much more access. In that context it is gratifying to see that this year’s Sylvester O'Halloran Virtual Perioperative Symposium will take place from 5 - 6 March 2021. Fellows and Members are encouraged to register here.

Next week, RCSI will host a virtual panel discussion to address the importance of population health advocacy and present the inaugural Sir Charles Alexander Cameron Award for Population Health to Dr Mike Ryan (WHO) at 1pm GMT on Tuesday, 2 March. The event will mark the centenary of the death of Sir Charles Alexander Cameron (1830-1921) RCSI President, Professor of Chemistry, Public Analyst and Medical Officer of Health for Dublin. During 40 years, as what would be nowadays called Chief Medical Officer, Cameron oversaw improvements in Public Health that resulted in a seven fold reduction in deaths from infectious diseases in Dublin between 1879 and his retirement in 1919. During his lifetime his service was recognised with a knighthood and by being made a Freeman of the City of Dublin.

In terms of centenary, I was delighted to (virtually) join Dr Anthony Leahy, an RCSI graduate of 1947 on the occasion of his 100th birthday on 25 February this year. Dr Leahy practiced in Liverpool and Leicester before settling in Newcastle, UK where he was a general practitioner for over 50 years. Dr Leahy was one of four siblings to graduate from RCSI, alongside his sisters, Dr Gertrude Mary Leahy (Bew), Dr Ann Leahy (Morrison) and Dr Eleanor Leahy (Hutch). He is the granduncle of Avril Hutch, Head of the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Unit in RCSI.

At the behest of Council, I wrote this week to Mr Paul Reid, CEO of the HSE to share concern regarding the very significant reduction in scheduled care necessitated by the pandemic and the inevitable effects on patient outcomes. It is apparent that recent agreements with the private sector have not produced the hoped for increased access to operating sessions. I made clear that RCSI is ready through the Clinical Programmes to support any initiatives that may increase the volume of scheduled care.

I also raised the concerns of those responsible for individual patient care regarding potential medico-legal ramifications of HSE or Hospital Group directives regarding deferral of scheduled care and the difficulties now encountered in accessing timely admission for patients. I indicated that Fellows and Members would welcome clear guidance from the HSE on how healthcare professionals can best protect themselves from the litigation that will inevitably follow the pandemic. I have little doubt the advice will be document, document, document and if in further doubt document.

I am pleased to report that 260 virtual interviews for Core Surgical Training were completed this week. Initial feedback of the process is very positive. The virtual format may prove to be the template for future selection as travel was avoided, allowing both interviewees (including some from Australia and New Zealand) and trainers to safely partake. All in Surgical Affairs are to be congratulated and my thanks to the many trainers who freely gave of their time.

This week the first round of the virtual final medical examinations in RCSI were completed successfully. Plans are afoot to recommence both Membership and Fellowship examinations in April and May. It is to be hoped that the experience gained last November will allow successful running of all diets of the examinations. I wish all candidates success following what has been such a stressful time.

It would only be right to end February on a high note. Firstly, belated New Year greetings to our Fellows and Members who celebrated the Chinese New Year of the Ox earlier this month. Secondly, the success of the Wednesday evening webinar series continues with large attendances at the symposia on bariatric surgery and bone metastases. My thanks to co-ordinators Mr Justin Geoghegan and Mr Seamus Morris and their colleagues for excellent presentations. Finally, do join the more than 4,000 people registered for the RCSI MyHealth series on the 'Science of Health & Happiness' starting next week.

Keep well,

Professor P. Ronan O'Connell
President, RCSI