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From Moldova to Mayo — and everywhere in between

16 Nov 2016

Dara Gantly looks back on another highly successful Irish Healthcare Awards packed with good news stories from the health service, for a welcome change

Describing just how uplifting the Irish Healthcare Awards can be is not the easiest thing to do to those who have not experienced it first-hand. But I guess such difficulty has never stopped me before.

Suffice it to say that this year’s Awards — the 15th year these ‘Oscars’ of the health service have taken place — was one of the biggest yet. But I don’t want to paint a picture of superficial bling or suggest any self-congratulatory narrative that points to insufferable spectacle. It is not the Oscars — although the gúnas can be pretty impressive!

For me, and many others, it is one of the few days of the year when the positive things that are taking place right across the health service are highlighted, and those implementing them to achieve better outcomes for their patients are recognised for their efforts. I believe the recognition of such unsung work is so important for morale in the health service, which as you know can be so important when it comes to the recruitment and retention of healthcare professionals.

Of course, our young doctors and nurses are emigrating because their remuneration at home is uncompetitive, there may be insufficient resources to enable them to do their jobs properly, or their prospects are underwhelming. But having their work undervalued is also influencing what has been termed a ‘crisis of morale’. We try not to ‘undervalue’ at IMT.

Take this year’s An Duais Mhór winner from the Saolta Healthcare Group. There were no pre-pregnancy diabetes clinics before 2006 in the entire West of Ireland, but after several years of successfully implementing its pre-pregnancy care for women with diabetes service, University Hospital Galway, Mayo University Hospital in Castlebar and Letterkenny General Hospital have it as a routine service, with no waiting list or additional costs. In fact, they have saved costs, as the average cost of delivering the pre-pregnancy care programme was just €449 per pregnancy, which was significantly less than the difference in complication costs between those who did and did not attend pre-pregnancy care (estimated at €2,570 per pregnancy).

The results have been dramatic, in terms of higher rates of folic acid use, lower rates of smoking and use of potentially harmful medications at conception, superior glucose control, and less likelihood of congenital malformations or admissions to the neonatal intensive care unit at birth.

And it wasn’t just the amazing winning projects that inspired: this year’s charity partner, Outreach Moldova (ORM), had everyone mesmerised by the initially horrendous conditions in which children in Moldovan state orphanages had lived, but equally transfixed by the impact the charity, founded by Dublin doctor Dr Suzanne O’Connell 16 years ago, has had.

Before being set up, some 185 children lived in one orphanage with a death rate of 60 per year. Today, 700 children are in the care of ORM and, due to the exemplary medical care they receive, just 13 children have died over the past 14 years, due to incurable conditions. The €10,000 raised — and the many connections made on the night — will help so many children in so many ways.

And unlike the Oscars in LA, we are not into excluding minority groups from our list of nominees or winners. It was great to see the HSE Primary Care Division (Social Inclusion) pick up a deserved commendation for its ‘Small Changes — Big Difference: Traveller preventative education programme for heart disease and diabetes’, which has become a new national resource for improving Traveller health by focusing on the prevention of heart disease and diabetes through sessions on physical activity, stress, smoking and nutrition.

Transgender Equality Network Ireland was another worthy winner of a commendation for its ‘Transgender Healthcare Conference’ held last December in Carlow. With 90 per cent of healthcare professionals having no specific training in providing services to transgender people, the importance of highlighting — and giving recognition — to such projects is of vital bearing to this often marginalised patient group.

But the Awards are also about connections and people. The excellent MC Bobby Kerr — who deserved a special ‘Oscar’ himself for his marathon performance — took particular pleasure in announcing that Breakthrough Cancer Research and UCC were being recognised for their Eating Well with Swallowing Difficulties in Cancer cookbook — a project he had personally been involved with following his own diagnosis of head and neck cancer. And as someone who lost close to four stone during his cancer treatment, he knew only too well how cancer patients can experience chewing or swallowing difficulties.

With 16 category winners and many more commendations, we like to encourage only the lead representative on each project, or a representative from each organisation if the project is a joint venture, to come up on stage to accept their award. It is important for health and safety reasons too. But when Roche Ireland, the Marie Keating Foundation and Edelman won for their ‘Out the Other Side’ campaign that captured the real-life stories of Irish breast cancer survivors, it was hard not to embrace the procession on stage of nine breast cancer survivors who were profiled in the outstanding photo exhibition.

In fact, I believe one did exactly that: she embraced our Publisher, who was an old school friend not seen for years. Sadly, one of the courageous ladies, Jackie Conlon, lost her battle, ultimately to liver cancer not breast cancer. But her daughter was there on the night to celebrate all that Jackie achieved — and it meant a lot.

A similar story emerged when ‘Love Your Lungs’ won the Best Patient Education Project — Pharmaceutical, as the lady who had represented COPD patients in the video campaign, Betty Sutton, had also passed away, but was represented at the event by her daughter Erika. So it is not just the doctors, nurses or administrators that deserve our acclaim.

There were so many uplifting stories to emerge from this year’s Irish Healthcare Awards — stories that the mainstream media often does not highlight. And when we have record waiting lists, a mounting trolley crisis and threats of strikes and further bed closures on the horizon, I know why not. I am guilty of this myself.

But who is there to report on the HSE National Forensic Mental Health Service and the Irish Prison Service, who have set up Ireland’s first prison pre-release planning programme (PREP) for mentally ill prisoners? People need to know that when mentally ill prisoners come to the end of their sentence there is an increased risk of morbidity and mortality. But they should also know that somebody is doing something about improving sentenced mentally ill prisoner’s access to care in the post-release period.

And in this post-Brexit world we now live in, it is reassuring to learn that the Irish Defence Forces, UCD Centre for Emergency Medical Science, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Irish Embassy to Sierra Leone can still team up with the British High Commission in Freetown to establish a cardiac first responder scheme to provide life-saving medical training, care and equipment in a country with no statutory ambulance service and still getting to grips with the aftermath of the Ebola virus outbreak. And I didn’t think I’d say this but, sartorially speaking, a bow tie goes very well with the Irish Army uniform (that’s my one nod here to any red carpet fashion report).

And — bear with me here — the HSE can do certain things well: like the National Employment Record for NCHDs, which has not only transformed the paperchase involved when junior doctors rotate posts, but provides an opportunity for trend analysis on the NCHD workforce, notifies a hospital via email if an NCHD has been removed from the Medical Council register, and produces compliance reports on such things as hand hygiene or patient handling.

And we all know about the success of the ambitious NIMIS project — the world’s largest implementation of a fully resilient national image repository to connect all contracted hospitals, using a nationally integrated Picture Archive Communication System and a Radiology Information System — and indeed eHealth Ireland’s creation of an Individual Health Identifier. Yes, in a way this is what the HSE should be doing in any case, but credit where credit is due.

What is there to say about Prof Cillian Twomey — other than what is already laid out on pages 12, 13 and 14. Actually, I could say a lot more, as could so many others attending last week’s event; like IMO President Dr John Duddy, who is not shy in describing Prof Twomey as one of his heroes. All he was missing at last week’s Awards was the cape.

So to those out there who may look sceptical at such events, I beg to differ. The winners last week were not overjoyed about just getting a 12-inch trophy. They were delighted that through a rigorous process of adjudication others saw merit in their work. And isn’t that what most of us crave.

The post From Moldova to Mayo — and everywhere in between appeared first on Irish Medical Times.

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