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Delegates at ISR annual meeting can expect varied and interesting programme

By Paul Mulholland - 13th Sep 2022


Paul Mulholland speaks to President of the Irish Society for Rheumatology Prof Geraldine McCarthy about what is on the agenda for the Society’s upcoming Autumn Meeting. 

The Autumn Meeting of the Irish Society for Rheumatology (ISR) is due to take place on 22-23 September in Europa Hotel, Belfast. Following the ISR’s successful Spring Meeting, which was held in Sligo, it marks the second fully face-to-face conference since the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The President of the ISR, Prof Geraldine McCarthy, told the Medical Independent (MI) that the gathering in Sligo was a “huge success”. 

Prof Geraldine McCarthy 

“It was brilliant, absolutely brilliant, to see everyone again,” Prof McCarthy, who is Consultant Rheumatologist in the Mater Misericordiae University, Dublin, told MI

“The meeting itself was very good anyway. But people were just delighted to see each other. There was plenty of chat and catching up. We had pretty good Zoom meetings throughout the pandemic – the quality of the speakers was great because we were able to bring them from abroad at low cost – but you can’t beat the chat and people getting to know each other again. There are a lot of new trainees, for example SpRs who would have come on board during Covid, who a lot of us wouldn’t even have met yet. So, it was great. It is really important to see each other in person.” 

In terms of rheumatology care in Ireland, Prof McCarthy said services are getting back to normal following the significant disruption caused by the pandemic. 

“In our hospital, the waiting list has been managed very well,” she explained. “We have gotten some extra resources through the NTPF [National Treatment Purchase Fund]. But we still need more bodies.” 

Prof McCarthy praised the efforts of HSE Clinical Programme Lead for Rheumatology Prof David Kane in increasing the number of consultant rheumatologists. In terms of medical graduates, Prof McCarthy emphasised there are significant “opportunities” in the specialty. 

“A number of other specialties are over-subscribed,” she said. “And I see a number of opportunities in rheumatology going forward.” 

Autumn Meeting 

The Autumn Meeting is the central event in the ISR’s calendar, and it offers a showcase for some of the most notable research in rheumatology taking place on the island of Ireland, both North and South. 

“And again, it’ll be nice for everyone to see each other,” Prof McCarthy said. 

“Some of the people who didn’t make it to the Spring Meeting will make it to this one. And our scientific committee have organised very good speakers.” 

Prof McCarthy pointed to the diversity of the programme. 

“I am not a big fan of themes, because they are often too niche,” she said. “You need a variety of topics.” 

Biologics in lupus 

After a clinical advisory group meeting, chaired by Prof Kane, and the opening address by Prof McCarthy on Thursday 22 September, the first main lecture will be delivered by Prof Ian Bruce, Professor of Rheumatology, University of Manchester. Prof Bruce’s clinical work is at The Kellgren Centre for Rheumatology, Manchester University Foundation Trust. He is also Director of the NIHR [National Institute for Health and Care Research] Manchester Biomedical Research Centre and Academic Director of Health Innovation Manchester. 

He qualified in Medicine from Queen’s University Belfast in 1988 and gained his MRCP in 1991. His clinical training in medicine and rheumatology was in Northern Ireland and he completed his MD thesis on the pathogenesis of systemic vasculitis in 1995. From 1996 to 1998, Prof Bruce was the Geoff Carr Lupus Fellow at the University of Toronto. He moved to Manchester in 1998 initially as an NHS consultant, but later transferred to the University in 2003. He was appointed Professor of Rheumatology in August 2010 and an NIHR Senior Investigator in April 2013. 

The topic of Prof Bruce’s talk is ‘Real world efficacy and safety of biologics in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE): Lessons from the BILAG biologics register (BILAG BR)’. 

BILAG BR is looking at the safety and effectiveness of biologic and biosimilar treatment for SLE. Long-term follow-up information regarding changes to the disease and any new illnesses is collected to determine the safety and effectiveness of these types of treatments. 

“It will be a very useful talk,” Prof McCarthy said. “We are a bit limited in the Republic so far, in terms of our ability to use biologic drugs. Hopefully, in time, that will be corrected. So it will be useful for us to know in advance what the real world data is.” 

Bernard Connor Award 

Following Prof Bruce’s talk, the Bernard Connor Award will be presented. The awarding of the medal did not take place during the Covid-19 pandemic. This year the Bernard Connor Award has been “restructured and upgraded”, according to the Society. 

Applicants must be registered RCPI BST trainees or Northern Ireland internal medical trainees on 1 July of the year of application. 

The Society states the award will be “given pride of place” at the upcoming meeting. 

Prof McCarthy said the thinking behind upgrading the award is to encourage trainees to consider rheumatology as a career. 

“The timelines were quite short, so we would hope this would be very popular next year and that it would attract an even greater number of applications and, in doing so, it would attract an even greater number of people to rheumatology. We hope it will be an incentive for people to join the specialty. Unfortunately, a lot of the interns and senior house officers that rotate through rheumatology across the tertiary referral centres spend a lot of time doing general internal medicine and they don’t really get exposed to rheumatology. And rheumatology isn’t highlighted much in medical school. Those of us in the field believe it is one of medicine’s best kept secrets because it is a great specialty to be in.” 

Unfortunately, a lot of the interns and senior house officers that rotate through rheumatology across the tertiary referral centres spend a lot of time doing general internal medicine and they don’t really get exposed to rheumatology 

Other speakers 

After the award, Prof Gaye Cunnane, Professor of Rheumatology, Trinity College Dublin and St James’s Hospital, Dublin, will deliver a lecture on the history of rheumatology in Ireland, based on a book she is writing on the subject. 

The next speaker will be Prof Michael Doherty, Head of Academic Rheumatology, University of Nottingham, whose talk is entitled, ‘Overview of gout and its current management’. Prof Doherty has been involved in studies examining the efficacy of Omega-3 fish oil at reducing frequency of gout flares during initiation and maintenance of urate-lowering therapy, and the effectiveness, versus usual GP care, of trained general practice nurses in managing people with gout in the community. 

Prof Doherty “is a world-renowned expert in this area”, according to Prof McCarthy. 

“He will bring his wealth of experience to the meeting on gout and its management.” 

Dr John McConville, Consultant Neurologist, South East Trust and Dr Estelle Healy, Consultant Neuropathologist, Belfast Trust, will then deliver a joint presentation on the subject of determining cases of inflammatory myopathy. They will speak about clinical and pathological mimics of inflammatory muscle disease. 

The final talk of the first day of the meeting will be given by Prof Emilio Filippucci, Consultant Rheumatologist, Marche Polytechnic University, Italy. The topic of Prof Filippucci’s talk is ultrasound in rheumatology. Prof Filippucci’s main research interests focus on the role of ultrasound in early diagnosis and monitoring of rheumatoid arthritis. 

On Friday morning, following a satellite meeting sponsored by Janssen, the first speaker will be Dr Gerry Coghlan, Consultant Cardiologist, Royal Free Hospital, London. The title of Dr Coghlan’s talk is, ‘Pulmonary hypertension (PH) – when to refer to a PH centre?’. Dr Coghlan is a founder member of the National Pulmonary Hypertension Physicians Association and has developed the Royal Free National Pulmonary Hypertension Service, with a particular interest in connective tissue disease-associated PH. 

He has developed an ‘outreach’ model for PH care attending clinics at Guys and St Thomas’ Hospital; Kings College Hospital; Royal United Hospital Bath; Derriford Hospital Plymouth; Queen Alexandra Hospital Portsmouth; and Ulster Hospital Dundonald. 

Ocular imaging in rheumatology is the topic of the next presentation. It will be presented by Dr Duncan Rogers, Consultant Medical Ophthalmologist, the Mater Hospital, who Prof McCarthy described as “absolutely brilliant”. 

This talk will be followed by the Young Investigator Award, after which the final presentation of the meeting will take place. 

It will be delivered by Dr Madeleine Rooney, Honorary Senior Lecturer and Consultant in Paediatric Rheumatology, Musgrave Park Hospital, Belfast, and is entitled ‘Paediatric rheumatology: Straddling two centuries’. 

“Dr Rooney is very well-known, both North and South,” Prof McCarthy said. “She is a great speaker and I will look forward to hearing her talk. It really is a very strong programme.” 

Before the close of the meeting, there will be a brief prize-giving ceremony.

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