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Healthcare debates, late-night discussion, and a fiendishly difficult quiz

By Dr Christine O'Malley - 28th May 2023

imo agm

The return of the IMO AGM to the Europe Hotel was an occasion worth celebrating

What a fabulous return to the Europe Hotel! It’s been four long years since we had an IMO AGM in Killarney; a pandemic makes it seem longer. The sun shone as it always does for the AGM. The view across lake waters to an imposing mountain is good for the soul. Hotel Europe welcomed us back with its charming combination of German efficiency and Kerry hospitality. The IMO staff did the rest, making it all appear effortless and seamless, but of course it’s not. The AGM is a huge undertaking, bringing together doctors from all backgrounds, and all parts of the country. It’s an eclectic mix of presentations on important topics, debate sessions, specialty group meetings, and fun. Yes, that was me drinking brandy at 3am.

The theme of the AGM was crisis in capacity. There was plenty of discussion about the lack of hospital beds for patients (my favourite topic) and the lack of doctors to look after them. Workforce planning can be a dry topic, but it came alive when doctors trying to join the workforce spoke up. Syeda Amna Azim is dually qualified in dentistry and medicine, but can’t access specialist training. Two young Ukrainian doctors are guests of our nation, but can’t register to work in Ireland.

There was standing room only when Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly addressed the meeting. He was courteously received, but unfortunately we disagreed with a lot of what he said. Our new IMO President John Cannon made that clear in his speech. Consultants do not believe the new contract will attract doctors home from Australia to fill empty posts. GPs have real concerns about workload, as the Government gives away more GP visit cards.

In the bar, some of us ex-Presidents talked with John Cannon (NCHD and GP trainee) about how to make the most his year. Clive Kilgallen and Ina Kelly both led the Organisation through Covid times. We are all from different medical backgrounds, but our interest is the same – to speak out on behalf of patients and their doctors. My Presidential year was back in the days of Health Minister Mary Harney and the failed co-located private hospitals project. I worry that Sláintecare isn’t just a philosophy, it’s based on the same mistaken beliefs about private patients. Banning private practice from public hospitals isn’t going to free up beds, because Irish private hospitals offer a rather limited range of services.

It was so good to be able to meet people again, in person, and with their families too. I loved meeting non-medical partners, maybe because my husband Tom O’Donoghue was one of them. Tom had his own connections to the medical world: Many years ago, he taught maths and physics to repeat Leaving Cert students and helped a lot of young people into medicine and other careers. Unfortunately, Tom’s daughter Annie couldn’t come to the IMO AGM this year, as she was Assistant Stage Manager on a David Mamet play in Dublin. But lots of people were asking for her, some remembering her Dad too.

I’ve always had a soft spot for journalists, so it was good to see Paul Mulholland and David Lynch from Medical Independent. I spent an evening in the company of RTÉ’s Fergal Bowers, and Paulie Doyle from a rival medical publication. Fergal has 35 years’ experience of the IMO AGM; I go back 20 years. That’s a lot of Health Ministers, and a lot of IMO Presidents, to reminisce over. Later Fergal and I talked about Covid times when he was a daily presence in our lives. I wrote to Fergal in response to one of his thoughtfully written pieces, thanking him for being a reliable source of information at such a difficult time. I also commented on the stream of vile comments under his online articles. In Killarney, Fergal was remarkably benign, saying that the pandemic pushed people into strange places.

The annual quiz at the Gala dinner was more fiendishly difficult than ever. Despite the help of teenager Kate Molloy, her lawyer mum Maria McCarthy, and Fergal Bowers, our table did not do well. I blame the doctors – two Emergency Medicine Consultants (Mick Molloy and Eoin Kelly) along with the Editor of the Irish Medical Journal (John Murphy), a Haematologist (Joan O’Riordan), and a Geriatrician (me).

At the IMO AGM, we don’t just talk about medicine and healthcare. Doctors have other interests too. Among the Presidents and doctors mentioned here, one is into karate and another trained in opera. One plays the uilleann pipes, another runs a lifeboat station. Yet another spent six months in Las Vegas as a professional gambler. Ah, but who? Maybe that can be part of next year’s quiz.

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