16 October 2020

Dear Fellows and Members,

It has indeed been a busy two weeks since the last newsletter. Unfortunately the eye of the storm has passed and COVID-19 is upon us again. We are back to level 3 or 4 restrictions countrywide while Northern Ireland will impose even more stringent restrictions. The exponential increase in cases has followed all the public health predictions – 1,205 new cases this evening compared with 390 two weeks ago. One can only hope that our heath services will prove as resilient as they were earlier in the year.

On Wednesday, on behalf of RCSI I was able to welcome the announcement by the Minister of Health of additional funding for the health services following allocations made in Budget 2020/21. The measures announced will assist the health services cope with the combined threats of the COVID-19 crisis and expected winter pressures. However, COVID-19 has exposed pre-existing critical shortages in hospital bed capacity, particularly in intensive care and high dependency units. Planned increased bed capacity, while welcome, is not sufficient without staff recruitment, training and retention. For too long Ireland has exported many of its best and brightest graduates in medicine, nursing and professions allied to medicine. Now is the time to ensure that all suitably qualified graduates are retained within the Irish healthcare system. The decision earlier this year to offer internship to all graduates of Irish medical schools proved invaluable in coping with the first COVID surge. It is to be hoped that the HSE will continue this arrangement.

While welcome, supplementary funding to the National Treatment Purchase Fund to provide access to scheduled care in the private sector must also facilitate access for specialty training. We in RCSI look forward to working with the Minister, his Department, the HSE and hospital groups to ensure best use of the additional funding and a safer, more equitable future in Irish healthcare.

The Annual Clinical Congress of the American College of Surgeons was held virtually last week. There were some excellent sessions, but the highlight was the award of the ACS Distinguished Service Award to Professor Hilary Sanfey. Hilary, who received an Honorary FRCSI in 2018, and trained as a senior registrar in the 1980s has had a stellar career as a transplant surgeon and more recently as Professor of Surgery and Vice-Chair for Surgical Education in Southern Illinois University in Springfield, Illinois. Hilary is a leading member of the Association of Women Surgeons whose motto is to Engage, Empower, Excel. Through this award, the ACS has recognised Hilary’s exemplary contribution to gender equality and career progression in surgery in North America and beyond. Hilary, we are very proud of your achievements.

RCSI held a virtual reception for Fellows and Members on Monday, 5 October which opened with a welcome address by ACS President Dr Valery Rusch, also an Honorary Fellow of RCSI. Vice-President Laura Viani, Council Member Margaret O’Donnell and I did short recorded interviews with several of our Fellows and Members working or training in North America. The event is available to view online here.

The Wednesday evening webinars continue to attract large numbers of viewers and have become part of the working week. On Wednesday, 7 October there was an excellent session on thyroid cancer, while on 14 October the presentations provided updates from the clinical programmes surgery. Dr Veda Hamilton, national clinical lead for acute hospital care provided a detailed update on COVID-19 and measures being taken to cope with the expected pressures on acute services.

The Global Health Education Ireland Symposium will take place online on Friday, 23 October. Speakers include Dr Mike Ryan (Executive Director, Health Emergencies Programme, WHO), Mr Colm Brophy TD (Minister of State for Overseas Development and Diaspora) and many more. Two of our partner organisations – COSECSA (surgical training) and CANECSA (anaesthesiology training) will also present. You can register for free and get full details of the programme here

The MCRSI Part B examination was held on 6 and 7 October. The format of the examination was modified to be delivered safely in a socially distanced capacity. 54 candidates were examined across both days. This was an important milestone for the candidates and also the Core Surgical Training programme, as progression from ST2 to ST3 is dependent on success in the examination. I am very grateful to the members of the Court of Examiners who examined and to the staff of Surgical Affairs and SARA who made all the arrangements. Applications are now open for the 2021 Surgical Training Programmes, Closing date for submission is 19/11/2020 at 5pm and applicants can apply to Core Surgical Training here

The 2019/2020 RCSI Annual Report was presented to Council at its meeting on 8 October – the report can be viewed here. It presents an outstanding account of the College and University activities over the past year. It is beautifully presented and well worth a look.

2020 was designated by WHO the 'International Year of the Nurse and the Midwife' in honour of the 200th anniversary of Florence Nightingale's birth. This year also marks 50 years since the introduction of post-registration education in Emergency Nursing in Ireland. A webinar to celebrate to 50 years of Emergency Nursing in Ireland was hosted by RCSI National Emergency Programme on 15 October 2020.

Finally, it is with great sadness that we learned this week of the death of Frank McManus, formerly consultant orthopaedic surgeon at the Mater and Temple Street Hospitals and RCSI Council member from 1995 to 2014. Frank was tireless in his efforts to improve patient care and develop the facilities necessary to improve outcomes. He championed the development of the National Spinal Unit at the Mater Hospital and would have welcomed the announcement this week of funding for the National Trauma Centres. Frank served on every College committee and gave freely of his time and energy to promote the best in Irish surgery. Our thoughts are with his wife Susie and children Joseph, Johnny and Sorcha.

Keep safe,

Professor P. Ronan O'Connell
President, RCSI