8 January 2021

Dear Fellows and Members,

And so ends the first week of the New Year. A time we had looked forward to for months on end during the lamentable year gone by. Already, 2020 seems long past but unfortunately we face another difficult year. In Ireland, as in most of the western world, we face the challenge of a third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and all its consequences. It did not seem conceivable that this week there would be over 1,000 individuals hospitalised, or that there would be over 100 admissions with COVID-19 per day. The resilience of our healthcare workforce is remarkable. It is to be hoped that the stringent measures introduced by Government will begin to take effect and that predictions of 2,000 or even 3,000 in-patients will not materialise. Yet there is considerable hope that this month marks the beginning of the end of the plague and that vaccines and longer evenings will bring respite and an opportunity to resume something approaching normality. For those of you who have been personally affected through illness or bereavement we are all in your debt and thank you for your commitment and dedication.

You will know from my previous newsletters that RCSI has coped well over the last nine months. We now face the challenge of ensuring that professional examinations be delivered and career progression facilitated in the most difficult of circumstances. Unlike 2020, when the impact was sudden and all encompassing, in 2021 we are confident that difficulties will be overcome and that with flexibility and understanding that the academic and professional year 2020/2021 will be completed, that students will progress and the impact of COVID-19 on career progression will be minimised. You can be assured that the Presidents of the four Royal Surgical Colleges are in regular communication with the heads of ICBSE and JCIE (the bodies responsible for the MRCS and FRCS examinations) to find ways to deliver safe, timely and quality assured diets of the examinations.

The first Council meeting of the new year will take place on Thursday, 14 January. As you would expect COVID-19 will feature high on the agenda, particularly concerning the delivery of urgent scheduled care and the protection of training opportunities. A major theme for this year will be to look at training for service needs, particularly as this relates to level 2 and level 3 hospitals. There are major gaps appearing in staffing, particularly in general surgery, with an apparent reluctance of Irish trained surgeons to apply for such posts. We will need to re-examine the perceived need for all to undertake post-CCST sub-specialty fellowships overseas, when 2020 has shown that ample sub-specialty training is available in Ireland in most disciplines. Likewise, we must question the need for all to undertake sub-specialty training, unless specifically required by their prospective job description. NDPT have published workforce plans that set workforce requirements in the short to medium term. The College and the profession must open a discussion on how better to train surgeons to provide safe, equitable care in the generality of their disciplines and not just in chosen sub-specialties. I have no doubt that through the Clinical Programmes funding can be made available, with proleptic appointments as appropriate, to allow experience in paediatric surgery, emergency general surgery or intensive care medicine to be obtained as needed.

It was with great pleasure I learned that Professor Vivian McAlister, London, Ontario, Canada and Dr Raghu Ram Pillarisetti, both Fellows of the College, have been recognised by New Year’s Honours Awards. Professor McAlister, an old friend, former classmate and co-intern in Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital, was made an Officer of the Order of Canada (OC) by the Governor General of Canada for ‘his seminal contributions to and leadership in the military and civilian surgical communities, as a medical practitioner, researcher and educator’. Professor McAlister will deliver the J&J Lecture at RCSI's Charter Meeting next month, entitled ‘From Kandahar to Canada’ on his experiences in military and civilian practice. Dr Pillarisetti was awarded an OBE by Queen Elizabeth in recognition of his major contribution to the treatment of breast cancer in India and especially for the foundation of the Uskalakshmi Breast Foundation which has championed breast awareness and self-examination as a screening tool among women in resource poor countries. Dr Pillarisetti has just completed a term as President of the Association of Surgeons of India.

Many of you will have read in the media of the pioneering deep brain surgery performed in Beaumont Hospital recently on a 16-year-old girl with a brain stem lesion. Our congratulations go to Mr Mohsen Javadpour, RCSI Honorary Clinical Associate Professor, and Mr Kieron Sweeney, Consultant Neurosurgeon, for their achievement and our best wishes to their young patient for her full recovery.

I am pleased to report that the Council’s Committee on Research under the chairmanship of Professor Michael Kerin is making good progress and has garnered support from the professors of durgery, the Irish Surgical Trainees Group as well as RCSI Surgical Affairs. It is hoped that a template for a National Surgical Research Network will emerge and that Clinical Research Coordination Ireland (CRCI) funding will be forthcoming.

The Northern Ireland Liaison Committee will meet next week. Fellows and Members will be pleased to know the enthusiasm amongst colleagues for this long overdue initiative. Five Northern Ireland surgeons have agreed to serve as co-opted members of relevant RCSI Council committees – Mr Niall McGonigle on the Committee for Surgical Affairs; Mr Trevor Thompson on ISPTC; Mr Robert Kennedy on the Professional Development and Practice Committee; Mr Michael Whiteside on the Court of Examiners and Mr Stuart McIntosh on the Council’s Research Committee. They are all very welcome and their inputs will be extremely valuable.

The Wednesday evening Webinar Series will begin again next week on 13 January 2021, and registration can be accessed here. I hope you will make this a regular feature of your weekly schedule. CME credits are available once you are registered. I am grateful to the Vice-President Professor Laura Viani and Mr Padraig Kelly for their oversight of the programme.

I hope that the peak of the third wave will have passed by the time of my next newsletter and that you will keep safe in the meantime.

Professor P. Ronan O'Connell
President, RCSI