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On our 10th birthday, we look back at some of the highlights since the Medical Independent was established. Over the past decade we have been through four office changes and three different redesigns. What has remained constant is our commitment to delivering high-quality journalism, relevant clinical content to help doctors with their CPD requirements, and the very best in opinion-writing
A message from our editor, Paul Mulholland
From its establishment, the mission of the Medical Independent (MI) has been to provide in-depth, exclusive reporting on the news that matters to the medical profession in Ireland. In the editorial in the first issue of MI, founding Editor Dawn O’Shea wrote that the newspaper would “fully examine and analyse the issues that impact on Irish medicine”. From our extensive use of Freedom of Information legislation, to the comprehensive and detailed nature of our investigative features, this has been the aim of Dawn herself and all subsequent editors of the paper: Ailbhe Jordan, James Fogarty, and Priscilla Lynch. (While we are acknowledging past staff, we would like to thank our previous designer of many years Barbara Vasic, for all her hard work on the paper.)
Healthcare is complex and our news stories and features reflect this complexity. Our reporting has covered issues ranging from serious risks to patient care, such as the carbapenemase-producing Enterobacteriaceae emergency and the lack of ICU capacity, to extravagant spending by health bodies. Notable recent stories in the latter category included revelations that the HSE paid €117,000 to private investigators to monitor the private practice arrangements of consultants (9 August 2018) and €406,000 in fees to a UK firm for the Values in Action culture change project (5 November 2018). We were also the first to report on the financial troubles of the National Association of General Practitioners, which eventually led to the dissolution of the Association.
Aside from analysing the chronic problems of emergency department overcrowding and waiting lists, as well as the long-standing contractual obstacles facing GPs and consultants, we also cover lesser-reported, though still significant, healthcare issues. These include our recent front-page story that the Irish Blood Transfusion Service introduced a one-year deferral period for blood donations from men who have sex with men, despite its medical advisory committee recommending the establishment of an expert group to deliberate on the deferral duration (9 January 2020). In 2018, Dr Ali Selim (PhD), speaking on behalf of the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland, told MI that female genital mutilation (FGM) or “female circumcision” was appropriate if mandated by a doctor (22 February 2018). His comments were roundly condemned by medical professionals. Minister for Health Simon Harris said the position, which Dr Selim repeated on RTÉ’s Prime Time, was “offensive and worrying”. This is only a small sample of the type of important, relevant, health stories that MI has reported, and will report, into the future.
We have also been pioneers in publishing current, evidence-based, clinical content in line with the new competency requirements placed on doctors and have developed fruitful partnerships with clinical societies over the years. We would like to thank all the medical professionals and societies who have contributed to our clinical reports and modules and helped ensure their consistently high quality. And of course, we would also like to very much thank all our readers for their support and engagement with MI over the last 10 years.
The voice of the profession
In addition to its in-depth reporting, a core part of the Medical Independent’s identity lies in the high calibre of our columnists. This can not only be seen in the awards for opinion-writing won over the years, but in the number of our columnists who have published books in recent times. In the past year, three regular columnists have published critically-acclaimed books: Dr Lucia Gannon, All in a Doctor’s Day; Prof Brendan Kelly, The Doctor Who Sat for a Year;and Dr Seamus O’Mahony, Can Medicine Be Cured?
Dr Gannon was approached to write her book, which focuses on her life as a rural GP, following her column, ‘The art of gracious acceptance’, which was published in October 2017. Towards the end of that article, which recounts an encounter with an elderly patient, she writes: “People are the reason I do my job. These people I meet every day come with gifts of compassion, kindness, gratitude, wisdom, and love. I just need to allow myself to receive them.”
A look at our social media accounts shows how strongly engaged doctors are in hearing the stories and experiences of their colleagues, as well as sharp analysis from healthcare experts. There is not enough room to individually thank all of the columnists who have contributed to these pages through the years, but their part in helping this newspaper become a leading voice in the profession over the past decade cannot be over-estimated.
Dr Lucia Gannon “Writing an opinion column for the Medical Independent has been one of my most enjoyable and interesting career diversions to date. The rules are simple; 800 words on a subject of my choosing, with a deadline that is communicated to me well in advance. For someone who practised writing for purely personal enjoyment for many years, the discipline of writing complete articles for publication is challenging, but rewarding. Being able to share insights from the heart of general practice is a privilege that I do not take for granted and will always be grateful to MI for publishing my musings.”
Dr Muiris Houston “Happy 10th birthday Mindo. It’s been great writing for you. I love the level of analysis you produce; the depth of clinical coverage; and of course your regular scoops. Graham and Maura had a vision for a new kind of medical publication. Ten years later and with the hard work of editors and journalists, their vision has been realised. Of course, there are a range of brilliant columnists in the mix also … but that’s something I couldn’t possibly comment on!”
Dr Pat Harrold “Sometimes I feel an article coming on. It might be at a meeting, or at work, but the only cure for it is to go for a walk and work it through in my mind. Then I am in the hugely privileged position of being able to write it up in a column for Mindo. Writers need to write and then to be published. I will always be grateful to Paul, Priscilla, and Catherine for allowing me to fill the columns beneath my solemn photo with my well-intentioned ramblings. And I had some great walks. Thanks, Mindo. Happy birthday.”
Dr Sarah Fitzgibbon “My very first contribution to the Medical Independent was in 2017, when Priscilla Lynch asked me to write about my experiences as a doctor with cancer. As has become apparent since then, this happens to be one of my favourite topics, so I was delighted to write for a wider audience and was very touched by the warm responses I received. This inevitably encouraged me to keep writing, and even to veer away from the topic of ‘Me and My Illness’ to address other issues, ranging from my grief at the loss of my GP to the discomfort of ‘magic knickers’. Thank you, Medical Independent, for helping me to find my voice.”
Dr Christine O’Malley “Ten years ago, a businessman asked about my views on healthcare. Mary Harney was Minister for Health; co-located private hospitals were a key issue. My opinions were so different philosophically, it was hard to express. I decided if I ever wrote a column, that’s what I’d address. The very next day, founding editor Dawn O’Shea asked me to write for the Medical Independent. Since then, I have written on colours, music, Dromineer and endless paragraphs about health. Through dark times in the health service and in my personal life, it has been a privilege to be part of the Mindo team.”
The write stuff – Some of our awards
The quality of the journalism produced by the Medical Independent (MI) was recognised immediately. June Shannon, who was a member of the original news team, won the Digital Media award at the GSK Medical Media Awards 2010 for her article on mental health. Since then, MI was a regular GSK media award-winner until the awards ended in 2014.
The 2014 Digital Media award went to David Lynch, who has been a reporter with MI since 2013, for an article which took a look at the legacy of The Troubles and the role played by medical staff. The judges commented him on “the originality and importance of the subject chosen for this entry”.
Our current News Editor Catherine Reilly won the News Reporting award — Professional Medical Media in 2014 for a series of articles which took an in-depth look at the increasing commercialisation of medicine and how it poses a threat to patients and public trust.
‘Going forward, looking back’
A notable example of what powerful opinion-writing can achieve is the reaction to Dr Anthony O’Connor’s column, ‘Going forward, looking back’, which appeared in our 17 January 2013 issue. The article, which concerned two doctors Dr O’Connor taught as undergraduates who later took their own lives, was a catalyst in sparking the IMO’s campaign to reduce the working hours of NCHDs, ‘24 No More’. “Depression and suicide are a scourge of our times,” Dr O’Connor writes in the article. “I’ve long held the view that there is a silent epidemic of undiagnosed, untreated depression among our colleagues. This disadvantages patients in a very significant manner and is catastrophic for doctors and our families.”