26 March 2020

To our Fellows and Members,

As the challenges facing the health service due to the COVID-19 pandemic become increasingly apparent, it is clear to all involved in healthcare education and delivery that we face uncertain times. As ever, our thoughts and best wishes are with you at this difficult time.

The RCSI Dean Professor Hannah McGee and I sit on the Department of Health Medical Leader Forum, which now meets virtually every Saturday morning. I can attest to the commitment made by the Minister Mr Simon Harris, Chief Medical Office Dr Tony Holohan and the HSE in coordinating a national response to this crisis. Likewise, I have no doubt you will support me in our commitment to do our part in addressing the issues that will inevitably arise in the coming months.

RCSI Surgery update

In the Department of Surgical Affairs at RCSI, we have now completed the selection process for ST3 allowing rotations to be appropriately allocated in the respective surgical training pathways. I commend the respective trainers and the Surgical Affairs staff, who willingly engaged in this process understanding the urgency required. All our trainees have now been informed that, for the immediate future, all Fellowship and Membership examinations have been cancelled and trainee assessments will be curtailed where necessary. We are committed to ensuring that no trainee will be disadvantaged and we will consider in the coming months how to address the reduction in logbook activity and formal assessment reports.

Looking to the future, it is important that RCSI responds appropriately to the challenges facing us. Already, we have updated the RCSI website so that appropriate information regarding the COVID-19 pandemic is available for each of our undergraduate and professional communities. Our teams in the National Clinical Programmes in Surgery, and Trauma and Orthopaedics, Surgical Affairs, RCSI Library, specialty associations and the ISTG are all working together to ensure the information and guidance you need to support the delivery of safe care during this pandemic outbreak is readily available.

More than ever, the vital role of the Department of Surgical Affairs is to support all surgeons in promoting safe practice. While it is inevitable that surgical practice as we know it will dramatically change in the near and immediate future, it is vital that each of us looks after our own health. In particular, we must support our colleagues as so many of us may now be working in unfamiliar circumstances.

A considerable number of COVID-19 cases have already been detected in healthcare workers. It is imperative that we promote safe barrier and aseptic techniques and the appropriate use of personal protection equipment (PPE). I ask that all senior clinical leaders ensure that each of their teams are trained in this regard. Furthermore, intra-specialty boundaries may well become blurred in the coming weeks and I would encourage everyone to be collegiate in supporting each other during this period. To support surgeons in the coming weeks, we will comment on and report on developments in the management of COVID-19 patients and on other issues relevant to surgical care. We welcome feedback on all of these issues and will endeavour to share any of your valuable insights. into the clinical and surgical management of patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The RCSI academic year

You may be aware that RCSI – University of Medicine and Health Sciences – mitigated end of year assessments in the School of Medicine by bringing forward the final year clinical examinations. These finished in a timely manner on 12 March, and allowed our international students to make key travel decisions regarding career and family priorities before announcements later the same week on the closure of international airspace.

The students will complete their remaining written exams online in the coming weeks and students will graduate virtually by the end of April. Our RCSI Bahrain colleagues have been through a similar situation, earlier than Dublin, and happily clinical exams have also been completed there. Academic staff, registry and IT departments were in preparation for over a month across all six RCSI schools, and online learning for all first health professional degrees (Medicine, Pharmacy, Physiotherapy and Physician Associate Studies) commenced relatively seamlessly with their respective programmes from the first day at home on 16 March. We greatly appreciate the entire academic faculty for their focus and commitment in what has been achieved to date. In the coming weeks, assessments will be finalised. Particular emphasis will be placed on induction skills for the incoming intern year, who may be requested to commence working prior to the standard ‘change-over’ period in July.

I wish all of you, your families and colleagues a safe journey in the weeks and months ahead.

By sharing our knowledge and supporting each other, we will endure.

Yours sincerely,

Mr Kenneth Mealy, President of RCSI