3 September 2021

Dear Fellows and Members,

So the new academic year begins! It was wonderful to see and hear the RCSI medical students back on campus and attending lectures this week – the campus has been a lonely place for so many months. COVID precautions remain in place, however there is a sense of emerging from a most difficult period in our lives. No doubt restrictions will remain to some degree and many will feel reluctant to attend mass gatherings until the prevalence of COVID is much reduced. We must hope that a new variant does not emerge to cause a fifth wave, and that booster vaccinations will be available in coming months.

As the health service emerges from COVID, it is clear that the staffing, bed capacity and waiting list issues that bedeviled the service before COVID remain and are set to become even more problematic. Overcrowded Emergency Departments are unsafe, disrespectful of staff and grievously unfair on patients. The backlog of patients who require surgical consultation and or surgical intervention is frightening and will take years to address. Funding National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) initiatives in the Private Sector while welcome provides only short term gain and only investment in the Public Service infrastructure will insure long term improvement. RCSI through the Committee for Surgical Affairs and the Clinical Programmes will continue to press for such service expansion at every opportunity.

While we are rightly concerned in Ireland, the situation in Northern Ireland (NI) is of even greater concern where COVID has resulted in a 46% drop in theatre activity and a 50% decrease in outpatient activity. Nearly 450,000 people in NI are on a waiting list for either a first appointment with a consultant or for admission for surgery. The Presidents of the four Surgical Royal Colleges have agreed to use every opportunity to support the surgical community in NI and to highlight this dangerous situation to the NI Executive and the UK Government. We will continue to advocate on an Intercollegiate basis. I hope an Intercollegiate presence can be established in NI in support of the surgical community which has Fellows and Members among all four Colleges.

The first week in September is always associated with the Sir Peter Freyer Surgical Symposium in National University of Ireland, Galway (NUIG). It is the showcase of Irish Academic Surgery attracting as it does a large number of abstracts and posters from across all disciples to a meeting that is both academic and collegial. Professor Michael Kerin and his colleagues are once again to be congratulated on the programme. They deserve great credit for coping with COVID restrictions and providing a comprehensive online programme. The meeting began on Thursday, September evening with a ‘Dragons Den’ session in which five research proposals will be presented by members of the Irish Surgical Research Collaborative and finishes on Saturday, 4 September with the presentation of the 46th Sir Peter Freyer Lecture by Dr Mike Ryan of WHO. Information and registration details are available here.

The regular Fellows and Members webinar series returns next week after a summer break. Based on the feedback received from Fellows and Members, the series has been changed to a more focused bi-weekly offering. On Wednesday, 8 September at 6pm, the first webinar will be chaired by Mr Kenneth Mealy, immediate Past President and will address the important topic of the proposed new Competency Model for Skills Training in Gastro-Intestinal Endoscopy in Ireland. You can register for the webinar here.

This week also marked the start of the monthly grand rounds in Global Surgery which are led by Professor Mark Shrime, RCSI O’Brien Chair of Global Surgery. The recorded version can be accessed here and subsequent presentations are scheduled for 2pm (IST) on the first Wednesday of each month during the academic term.

RCSI Surgical Affairs team have been successful in receiving funding from HSE National Doctors Training and Planning (NDTP) to pilot a new Surgical Bootcamp which will focus specifically on NCHDs outside of the surgical training schemes who are commencing their first SHO jobs in Ireland. The project will bring together educationalists and subject matter experts to design this intensive programme and cover a range of technical and non-technical skills required for safe practice and to prepare new SHOs for this next step in their career. The course will be designed and benchmarked against international best practices. For the initial phase, two diets of this three-day programme will be delivered to 40 SHOs in the 2022 intake.

I am delighted to see that RCSI’s Health Professions Education Centre (HPEC) is conducting a research study exploring your views and those of your fellow healthcare professionals regarding future access to CPD beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. I would encourage you to lend your voice to the survey here.

Earlier this month 10 teams competed in the Global Surgical Training Challenge, where they presented their training modules in a one-hour online Prototype Showcase. The event was an opportunity for the teams to present their prototype training modules to an external audience for the first time. A team from across RCSI University of Medicine and Health Sciences is leading a mentorship programme for the participating teams. The $5m challenge aims to stimulate the creation of novel, low-cost surgical training modules that will help surgical practitioners to learn new skills to improve the health of their communities. These 10 global teams are changing the paradigm of how surgical practitioners learn and assess life-saving skills.

The mentorship programme is led by the RCSI Institute of Global Surgery (IGS) in collaboration with RCSI’s Centre for Simulation Education and Research (RCSI SIM) supported by RCSI Department of Surgical Affairs and a range of subject matter experts across RCSI and beyond. Mr Eric O'Flynn from IGS and Dr Claire Condron from RCSI SIM helm the mentorship team. The Global Surgical Training Challenge is funded by the Intuitive Foundation, and RCSI joins other Challenge partners MIT Solve and Nesta Challenges.

I hope all Fellows and Members will have had some personal time over the summer break. It is important to reflect on the difficulties of the past 18 months but also to set new goals and timelines. As RCSI President I have been unable to personally greet and welcome new Fellows and Members in the College or to preside over graduation and conferring ceremonies but I sincerely hope that the academic year 2021-22 will be more fraternal and holistic and that we can consign the past 18 months to posterity.

Best wishes

P. Ronan O'Connell