New group for Irish doctors in the UK

By David Hennessy

An Irish Junior Doctor working in London is looking to establish an organisation for Irish people working in the NHS and is looking to hear from people who want to get involved.

Gerard McHale re-trained in Britain having moved from Ireland ten years ago.

Having initially come to the UK as an accountant, Gerard became aware of various professional organisations for Irish people in business, law and construction among others but when he changed profession, he found there was no such group for Irish people working in healthcare despite the large numbers of Irish in healthcare.

Gerard told The Irish World: “When I moved over here first in 2009, I dipped in and out of a number of professional Irish community organisations that were here and then when I started studying medicine I started to think, ‘Maybe there’s a community for Irish healthcare professionals, Irish doctors’. I couldn’t find any.

“I just thought, ‘Well maybe this might be an opportune time’. I’ve just started this journey of trying to put an organisation or a society together and spent the last few months reaching out to people and everyone responds positively to it. I’ve been talking to other organisations, Irish groups to see how they’ve gone about setting up and they’ve kindly helped me formulate an idea to move it forward.

“We need to take it forward from there between now and next year.”

The new group will aim to

  • Connect Irish colleagues through their shared culture and heritage.
  • To provide opportunities for learning via education/personal developmental events.
  • Develop a platform for socialising, especially for those new to London.
  • Promote Irish business within the healthcare setting where possible.

“I think one of the things that we’ve always been good at as Irish people is when people moved here from Ireland, they have somewhere they can go to- whether that’s through the GAA or there’s an Irish construction network who I have spoken to- But there isn’t one in healthcare and there isn’t one for doctors.

“Being that point for people coming over, I think, could be something we could do and look to develop and also different experiences that we’ve had during the last few months or people have been here.

“Some of us have been in the UK ten years, some of us have been here for less. Some of us have been involved in healthcare two or three years, some of us are approaching thirty years.

“There is vast amounts of experience and ups and downs that are out there, coming together always allows you to share experiences, to bounce ideas and to be that support network that people need especially at difficult times.”

The recent crisis displayed to Gerard how many Irish people are working in the NHS as he found himself working closely with other Irish doctors. He also realised how important community is at this time.

He decided now might be a good time to bring Irish doctors together to celebrate their achievements and start a network of colleagues, starting with those in the London area. The initiative has been mentioned to, and gained the support of, the Irish Embassy in London.

Asked what the reality of life in a hospital is like at the moment, Gerard says, “In general, the numbers have dropped dramatically. We had 1,500 new cases yesterday in the UK but only a handful of deaths. There’s a small amount of people, relatively speaking, in hospital with this disease at the moment. It’s completely changed from what it was like at the peak where we only had Covid patients. It’s a very different dynamic now.

“In terms of how people are feeling, people are definitely very tired.”

Gerard continues to say that morale has suffered in hospitals but not due to Covid-19.

“The NHS is held up as this brilliant healthcare system but it’s a hard place to work. Over the last number of years, morale has been dropping dramatically. You look at A&E waiting times, they’ve just been deteriorating. Part of the reason is that hospitals are fuller and fuller which means people are under more and more pressure.

“We came out of a busy winter and then went into this busy Covid-19 time and now we’re trying to come out the other side of it and trying to recharge a bit with that apprehension of what’s coming next.

“I think a lot of us in the beginning were a bit worried on a personal level how severely it would impact on us because we were watching things unfolding in places like Italy.

“We were seeing doctors and other healthcare professionals who were being exposed to the virus not doing very well and sadly we’ve lost a number of healthcare professionals in the UK with the disease.

“I think a lot of us who have come through it, the personal fear has kind of left a little bit insofar as you kind of feel, ‘Well, you survived it so maybe we continue to survive..’ But the apprehension as to what the winter is going to look like is definitely there.

“What we’re seeing the last few months since the Covid numbers dropped down, over the peak we didn’t see as much of the business as usual coming through the doors but they’ve all started to come back because people still have heart attacks, people still have all the other infections, other afflictions. People still get ill. We’ve seen those coming back in again so going into winter, it’s a concerning picture for all of us involved and we just don’t really know what way it’s going to go.”

Although the crisis may have peaked, it is far from over. Gerard points out that last week scientists in Hong Kong found a man who had already contracted and recovered from the virus, had been re-infected.

“We know an awful lot more now than we did six months ago, but we still don’t know an awful lot. We were all working on the assumption that people couldn’t get re-infected but there’s this paper that came out this week in Hong Kong they’ve reported two different strands of viral DNA where he was re-tested. He then came back into Hong Kong via Spain and he was swabbed coming in and they found the virus again though he had no symptoms and they found a different virus, a different strain of it. That’s a whole new ball game that we’re potentially heading into.”

Anyone interested in the idea of a society or group for Irish doctors in London, can email gerardmchale@gmail.com.

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