17 July 2020

Dear Fellows and Members,

The President’s weekly newsletter was initiated by President Kenneth Mealy in March to keep Fellows and Members appraised of the rapidly evolving COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on the delivery of surgical care. The newsletter has served its immediate purpose and, taken together with the weekly webinar series and constant updates on the RCSI website, I hope you feel that RCSI has kept you well informed.

I believe now is the time to reduce the newsletter frequency. However, we will endeavour to maintain communication links with Fellows and Members through a portfolio of newsletters, webinars and website updates. The aim will be to provide up-to-date information on COVID-19, but, also, and more importantly, a portal for continuing professional education and information exchange. To that end, I would welcome suggestions regarding the continuing format and how best RCSI may serve your needs.

Some weeks ago I referred to the current respite from COVID-19 as being in the eye of the storm. There are indications that the ‘R rate’ has risen with the decision this week to postpone stage four of the national recovery plan. RCSI strongly supports the recommendations to restrict large social gatherings and overseas travel until such time as the National Public Health Emergency Team can recommend relaxation. It is of paramount importance that scheduled healthcare and education resume as soon and as fully as possible. With that in mind I have written to Minister Stephen Donnelly assuring him of the support of the Fellows and Members through the surgical programmes. I look forward to an early meeting with the Minister.

While COVID-19 appears less pressing in Ireland at present, we are very aware that Fellows and Members overseas, particularly in India, Pakistan and South Africa, are facing very serious challenges. RCSI Fellow, Professor Sharma from Jabalpur India has written in the BJS of low-cost solutions to air handling in operating theatres in low and middle-income countries. An editorial in Nature this week sets out the threat posed by the virus to the UN Sustainable Development Goals, stating ‘what progress that has been made, has stopped in its tracks’. However difficult the resumption of scheduled care will be in Ireland, we must be aware of how fortunate we are to live and work in a relatively wealthy and politically stable society.

This week I had the pleasure of being invited to virtually attend the inaugural lecture of Professor April Roslani, President of the Malaysian College of Surgeons, in her role as the new Chair of the Department of Surgery, Universiti Malaya. Prof Roslani spoke eloquently on ‘Training the Modern Surgeon: Lessons Learned from Professional Athletics’. It is a very interesting concept and one I am sure you would enjoy listening to. Prof. Roslani has kindly given me permission to share the link should you wish to watch her lecture. I was due to visit Malaysia in early in August to attend a joint meeting of the Malaysian College of Surgeons and the Malaysia-Singapore Congress of Medicine in Penang. Unfortunately, the meeting has had to be postponed, however Prof. Roslani and I are determined to foster closer links between RCSI and our colleagues in Malaysia.

Last week I noted that Prof. Derek Alderson had come to the end of his term as President of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. This week I am delighted to welcome Prof. Neil Mortensen as the new President of the college. Prof. Mortensen is an Honorary Fellow and a close friend of our College. I look forward to working with him over the term of my Presidency, beginning with a meeting (virtual) of the Joint Surgical Colleges next week. High on the agenda will be proposals for socially distanced part B MRCS and FRCS examinations that will need to be agreed in order to obtain Irish Medical Council and UK GMC approval for the necessary changes in exam format. Once agreed, any significant changes will be communicated to potential candidates.

I hope that all of you will enjoy some rest and relaxation with friends and family in the traditional August holiday period. I look forward to returning in September to work with Council, RCSI Senior Management Team and staff, and you our Fellows and Members.

Kind regards,

P. Ronan O’Connell