Leading clinician steps down, hails public for keyworker support

After three decades as a senior clinician in the mid-West, Dr Gerry Burke has retired

Outgoing Chief Clinical Director of UL Hospitals Group, Dr Gerry Burke, has praised the public for supporting keyworkers during the pandemic.

After three decades working as a senior clinician in the mid-West, Dr Burke said it was time he passed the baton to someone younger.

Revealing his retirement was marked by a “great sense of relief that our hospital services were not overwhelmed by the coronavirus”, he also highlighted the support from members of the public he witnessed during the pandemic for front-line workers.

“Great hospitals have a number of things in common,” the Connemara-native explained.

“Great hospitals operate in the Samaritan tradition: they help people who need help, and provide that help in a highly organised way, not to make a profit for investors. They teach, research, and innovate; and finally, they are rooted in their communities. They support their communities and their communities support them in return. I think we’ve seen those three strands during the pandemic, particularly the community support for our work.”

Dr Burke, who stepped down last Friday (May 29), also praised the contribution of colleagues in the battle against the Covid-19 infection as he cautioned “the threat has not gone away”.

“It has been a massive effort, but it’s a work in progress,” he said. “We must not be complacent. We have got to hold firm.”

Noting that ICU capacity in Ireland remained a major problem, the former consultant obstetrician added: “We still have limited single-room space; and limited numbers of medical and nursing staff.

“But our Chief Executive Officer Colette Cowan has done a fantastic job facilitating collaboration between clinicians and executives.

Dr Sarah O’Connell, our infectious diseases consultant, whom I appointed as Clinical Lead during the emergency, put in a massive effort to design safe care pathways in consultation with other clinicians, backed by our tremendously knowledgeable microbiology team.

“And Dr Catherine Motherway came to the fore both locally and nationally. Her blunt message on that famous Prime Time interview captured the nation. The public really responded to Catherine’s message, ‘to do what you’re supposed to do’.”

CEO Cowan returned the compliment as she wished Dr Burke well on his retirement.

“I was very fortunate to have Gerry working for me as Chief Clinical Director,” she said.

“He is a person of very high integrity, who advocated tirelessly for quality and safety. When I first met Gerry, I was most struck by his moral compass, and his compassion for people who were reliant on our services. Gerry is also a very interesting person, with a great love of nature and humanity. He has seen the safe arrival of many, many children, and countless mothers locally will fondly remember him delivering their now grown up children. I wish Gerry health, happiness and the best of luck as he moves onto his next chapter.”

Reflecting on his career, Dr Burke said the achievements he was most proud of included the rollout of the first Perinatal Mental Health Service outside of Dublin and the introduction of cardiotocography masterclasses for colleagues around the country.

“We’re unique among 35 counties in being the place to provide those classes for free; and also going back 20 years ago, when we became the first maternity hospital in the country to offer a two-scan programme, copying the German model of the time, for all maternity patients,” he added.

Dr Burke said he now plans to use his retirement to take painting up again.

“There are some things I would like to do while there is still time, things that got put on the long finger a long time ago. If one manages to stay reasonably healthy you can reconnect,” he said.

peter.doyle@imt.ie

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