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Dedicated to others both in public and private

21 Jan 2016

Dr Muiris Houston pays tribute to the late Dr Aiden Meade — born January 28, 1928, died December 17, 2015 — who gave so much back to his profession over a long and successful career in medicine.

With the passing of Aiden Meade just before Christmas, Irish medicine has lost one of its leading lights. A general practitioner in Kilmacud, Dublin, he was possibly best known to the wider profession as the inaugural chair of the Sick Doctor Scheme (SDS).

Many doctors and their families have reason to be grateful for his astute and discrete stewardship of the scheme from 1985 to 2003, when Dr Ide Delargy succeeded him.

Aiden was chair of the Ethics Committee of the IMO when he was approached by a senior member of the Medical Council who was concerned about the increasing numbers of doctors suffering with substance abuse who had no avenue for treatment.

The scheme offered financial support to allow doctors to take sick leave and get treatment for their addiction. It provided loans to pay for practice expenses and locum fees.

Saving lives

Based on the voluntary participation of the doctor involved and offering complete confidentiality, the scheme also set up a support group for doctors suffering from substance abuse. Subsequently replicated in other countries, it is fair to say that under Aiden the SDS saved colleagues’ lives. Patients and doctors families also benefited hugely.

Born into a farming and teaching family in Co Meath, Aiden was proud of his roots. He relished shouting for Meath in Croke Park, especially during some of the legendary clashes with Dublin. “I don’t think we ever knew we were really ‘Dubs’ (as children),” one of his daughters recalls. “We shouted proudly for Meath every time.”

After secondary school education at St Patrick’s College, Navan, he went to UCD, qualifying in medicine in 1952. He interned at the Mater in Dublin; this was where he met his future wife, Maura McLoughlin, a nurse at the hospital. They married in 1955.


Dr Aidan Meade

As with many of his generation, medical jobs were hard to come by in Ireland at the time. Aiden and Maura thus headed off to Derby where he worked in public health and obtained his DPH.

On returning home, he worked in public health and in house jobs at Temple St and the Mater. He set up in practice in 1960 while still working part time in local hospitals.

A superb and perceptive communicator, he built up a large practice and a loyal following. Now a training practice, Aiden was joined in later years by his son Brian and daughter-in-law Siobhan.

Union and College
He first became involved in medical politics as a junior hospital doctor. Annoyed at the poor pay (of £1 per week plus board), excessive overtime and lack of teaching, he and several others formed a group that worked towards improving pay and conditions.

Aiden and his colleagues found a welcome home in the newly formed Medical Union; he became the youngest ever president of the Medical Union in October 1966.

Aiden was instrumental in negotiating the first GP contract — the fee-per-item system — with the Department of Health. He was also active in the negotiation of the improved capitation system which offered sick pay and pension rights to GPs. And he was elected President of the ICGP in 1998.

Lourdes visits
An active member of the doctors’ group who travelled annually to Lourdes with the Dublin Diocese, Aiden wrote a handbook for doctors new to the area covering common ailments and how to deal with the French authorities in the event of sudden illness or death among patients.

A good writer and editor, I personally benefited from his mentoring and encouragement. Not long after I finished vocational training he noticed my strong interest in writing and education and invited me to join the editorial board of Irish Doctor, the journal of postgraduate medical education.

I learnt a lot at editorial board meetings and also had a platform to contribute under Aiden’s editorship. Prior to this he had edited Medical Monthly, the Medical Union journal for more than 10 years.

Through my friendship from university days with his son Brian, I got to appreciate Aiden and Maura’s lovely home. A warm and close-knit family, it was always a pleasure to spend time in the company of Brian’s parents and siblings.

His palpable enthusiasm had a fun side too. He adored Disney films and in the early 1980s he would ‘borrow’ his grandchildren to bring to the latest release of any Disney movie. After several years accompanying his grandfather to the pictures, the oldest grandchild was heard to say: “It’s really embarrassing sometimes as Grandad laughs louder than anyone else in the cinema!”

At medical social events it was rare to see Aiden without Maura. They were a great team, both personally and professionally. Aiden is survived by his children Carmel, Romy, Brian, Joan, Ollie and Ciaran.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

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Click here to view the full article which appeared in Irish Medical Times: Opinion