18 December 2020

Dear Fellows and Members,

As we approach the end of a very difficult year, many will reflect on the unprecedented economic disruption, lost opportunities, missed family celebrations and commiserations, enforced separations and the toll of loneliness and burnout as a result of COVID-19. A century ago the Great War followed by the Spanish flu pandemic resulted in social upheaval, the end of empires and the hedonistic ‘roaring twenties’ only to end in the great depression and the emergence of totalitarianism. Let us hope that history does not repeat itself.

In March and April, we wondered if our healthcare facilities would be overwhelmed and if we, in Ireland, would experience a catastrophe such as that which befell Northern Italy, parts of Spain and New York. We did not. While it is hard to think of the positives of 2020, there are many to be taken from the year that none of us will forget. We prevailed through social cohesion, enormous sacrifice and the extraordinary resilience of our healthcare staff. RCSI Fellows and Members distinguished themselves by providing stoic leadership. The adage 'when the going gets tough, the tough get going' comes to mind.

At the outset of the pandemic, our priorities in RCSI were to keep our Fellows and Members supported so that you could adapt practice, maintain acute services and resume scheduled care. While waiting lists for surgical procedures in Ireland grew by 36% in the three months to June, they have fallen by 19% in the subsequent six months. That is nothing short of remarkable. The COVID Resource Hub on the RCSI website has been accessed on more than 52,000 occasions! 34 weekly webinars have had more than 3,400 participants and a further 3,200 downloads. There have been contributions from all surgical disciplines and from colleagues at home and abroad. The National Clinical Programmes in Surgery developed multiple guidelines and 22 separate COVID-19 initiatives to support surgeons in practice. The intercollegiate FRCS and MRCS examinations have been delivered and training programmes progressed.

RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences has had a challenging year but managed to rapidly adapt to changed circumstances. All examinations and graduations were delivered on time and conferring ceremonies were switched to online. The current academic year began in a staggered fashion in September. All courses this semester have been delivered in a hybrid model of online and small group teaching either on campus or at the clinical sites. A great deal of preparatory work was done to ensure the safety of overseas students on arrival in Ireland and regular COVID testing is performed on campus. All RCSI places in Dublin, Bahrain and Malaysia have been filled; indeed most were oversubscribed. Work has already commenced on student recruitment for the 2021/2022 academic year. The experience of the current year coupled with positive feedback from students and their families and the emergence of COVID-19 vaccines gives cause to be optimistic regarding the next academic year.

Registration has opened for the Charter Meeting in February that will incorporate the following:

  • The annual National Office of Clinical Audit (NOCA) Meeting;
  • The National Clinical Programmes in Surgery Meeting;
  • Annual Video Surgery Meeting;
  • The inaugural Faculty of Surgical Trainers Meeting;
  • The Millin Meeting;
  • Charter Day itself; and
  • The Irish Surgical Training Group Meeting.

There will be symposia on innovation, sepsis, research in training, global surgery and ethnic diversity; breakout sessions on topics decided by the specialties and Faculties and four keynote lectures:

  • The 43rd Millin Lecture: Mr Colin Pierce – Electrodes to Robots
  • The Annual Carmichael Lecture: Fintan O’Toole – Your Wealth is Your Health
  • The J&J Lecture: Professor Vivian McAlister – From Kandahar to Canada
  • The 96th Colles Lecture: Professor James Lau – The demise of Emergency Ulcer Surgery.

The programme and registration details are available here. Attendance for the fully virtual programme is free of charge, but pre-registration is essential.

COVID-19 will still be prevalent in 2021 and the economic realities of the pandemic and Brexit are certain to be more evident. Leadership and social cohesion will be needed to reap the benefits of the new normal. It is my hope that Fellows and Members will continue to look to the College for guidance and that RCSI can assist in adaptation of clinical practice and training to evolving paradigms. We will support the Clinical Programmes and HSE in restoration and protection of scheduled care. We will work with NDTP, HSE and the Forum of Irish Postgraduate Medical Training Bodies to improve career opportunities for those NCHD colleagues in 'non-training' employment. We will work with Fellows and Members in Northern Ireland to establish how RCSI can better meet their needs. We will work through the new Council Research Committee and Irish Research Forum to establish a National Surgical Research Network, open to all interested in surgical research to participate. We will make every effort to engage with our overseas diaspora to increase the relevance of RCSI to their practice.

In closing, I congratulate you and thank you for your enduring service to your patients and for your support of your College. I hope you will have some rest and precious time with those close to you during Christmas or the festive season as it applies to you. I look forward to the renewal of a New Year.

Keep safe.

Best wishes,

Professor P. Ronan O'Connell
President, RCSI