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Assisting doctors in financial distress

The Royal Medical Benevolent Fund Society of Ireland has a long history of assisting doctors in financial distress due to ill-health and is keen on attracting more volunteers to its committee. Catherine Reilly reports

Approximately 20 doctors or family members of doctors are being assisted by the Royal Medical Benevolent Fund Society of Ireland, which has been supporting doctors since 1842.

The fund is open to doctors resident in Ireland and their families who have little income and savings and are unable to support themselves financially due to illness, disability or because they are over State retirement age.

Speaking to the Medical Independent (MI), Treasurer of the society Dr Kevin MacPartlin said every case was different and the needs of people varied.

“Now we are seeing increasingly a younger age group coming in seeking help, and not only that, we have people coming from abroad working in our services who unfortunately run into health problems precipitating financial trouble,” according to Dr MacPartlin.

About two-thirds of the people being assisted are Irish and one-third are graduates from abroad who came to work in Ireland.

Illnesses

Dr MacPartlin said there were a range of physical and mental illnesses impacting doctors accessing the fund, from anxiety, depression and stress, to cardiovascular disease and cancers.

Currently, the fund is providing grants totalling €80,000-€90,000 per year to doctors and a small number of widows of doctors. In some cases, doctors may only require assistance on a once-off basis, while others seek help over a period of years, explained Dr MacPartlin.

He outlined that the application to the fund has to be supported by a doctor.

“Nowadays, we expect their application to be supported by a doctor and preferably their GP, so hopefully we can get a clearer picture about what is going on.”

The society engages a qualified social worker on a contractual basis who provides a thorough assessment of the doctor’s needs and entitlements.

Often, the applicants do not know about their entitlements and the social worker can advise them on what they may be entitled to.

Dr MacPartlin recalled one of the comments from an assisted doctor, who said the social worker “was the first person who sat down and talked to me about my problem”.

He said that due to strict confidentiality, it was not possible for MI to interview any of the assisted doctors or for any identifying information to be provided.

However, he said doctors in their 30s upwards, from a range of specialties, are accessing the fund.

The grants assist with various financial problems, such as healthcare outgoings, falling behind on mortgage repayments, credit card repayments, and day-to-day living and travel expenses, with the hardship experienced by the doctor arising from a period of ill-health.

Structure

The society is a registered charity with trustees and a committee in place, and a long and successful track record in helping doctors and their families in financial distress.

Yet to ensure the society remains able to fulfil this role in the coming decades, it needs to boost its profile and gain new donors.

Many of the people providing annual or regular donations are in the older age groups, said Dr MacPartlin. He added that the society’s return on its investments reflects the current climate and is not what it once was.

“So it is incumbent on us to try and start the process of shoring-up our funds and making sure we have such an institution available for people who do get into trouble in the future.”

Dr MacPartlin said his colleague Dr Sheila MacEvilly has done “trojan work” in ensuring the society keeps in line with legislative requirements. All of the committee members are volunteers and there are no staff employed by the society, he outlined.

The society has also been boosted by input from Dr Elizabeth Walsh, a consultant psychiatrist, who with colleagues recently established a Twitter account to enhance the organisation’s profile. This has led to more interaction with the society’s website.

“Fortunately, Elizabeth and her colleagues came along and these seem to be people who are much more IT-adept than we are, and they have set up a Twitter account and we are getting a lot of hits at the moment. Hopefully those hits will turn into income.”

Dr Mac Partlin said the society needs, and would welcome, more committee members. It used to have strong representation from hospital-based medicine, but this has declined. At the moment, the committee is largely comprised of doctors from a background in general practice or public health medicine.

“If people even wanted to set up regional committees to liaise with us, we’d be very, very grateful — anyone who feels they can help us, especially people with expertise in administration and IT, because it is getting more and more complex,” added Dr MacPartlin, referring to requirements set out by charities law and GDPR.

Involvement is very rewarding, as the assisted doctors are “very grateful” for the support.

“It certainly makes a difference to them; you will get letters from time-to-time and when applying for their grants, with comments such as ‘this makes such a great difference to my life’… it certainly does help them.”

For more information on the fund, visit medicalbenevolent.ie. The fund’s Twitter account is  twitter.com/rmbf_ie

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