Chairman’s report 2014 AGM

Ladies and gentlemen,

Good evening to you all.  You are very welcome to this the 16th AGM of the RVH Liver Support Group..     

It is a pleasure to welcome Dr. Roger McCorry as our guest speaker this evening. I am very much looking forward to what he has to say later in the meeting about current developments in the field of liver transplantation.

I wish first of all to pay tribute to all the hospital staff in the R.V.H. and to thank them for their dedication and professionalism  – to the four consultants who, as in every other year, helped us to plan the year’s work at a strategy meeting on 9th May last year; to Sister Moffett, Fred McDermott and the ward staff of 6D;  to Tracy Close and her staff in the Children’s Hospital; to Betty Boyd and her staff in the Programmed Treatment Unit; to all who work in Outpatients and to all who work in any area of hospital  administration that affects our members. We are proud of the links we have forged with them and are grateful for their support and advice in every area of our work.  I would offer on behalf of all present congratulations and best wishes to Dr. McDougall in his new role as Clinical Director of Medicine.

I also wish to pay tribute to the hard work and dedication of the committee, all of whom are keenly committed to the objectives of the group and who work hard and effectively within their own areas of responsibility.  This all makes my role as chair much easier.  I am continually humbled by the fact that the work goes on steadily at times when some of them may be struggling with ill health themselves or with the ill health of those for whom they care.  One of the most satisfying outcomes this year was the return of Kay Duffy to full involvement in adult patient care.  The lowest moment for us all as a committee was the passing of Siobhan Gough on 10th March.  Siobhan had only served on the committee since April 2013 and while chronic ill health ensured that she could never become fully involved with our work, she impressed us all with her resilience and good humour in the face of serious illness.  Attending her funeral in March was all the more poignant for knowing that we had attended the funeral of Carina Matthews some five months previously. Siobhan had replaced Carina on the committee after last year’s AGM.

We lost several other members during the course of the year and my condolences and best wishes go out to their families and loved ones.  The sadness of these times was somewhat balanced  by recognising that a positive view of the world at difficult times is characteristic of so many of our members.  This was evident at the Odyssey Complex on Saturday 21st September when we assisted the Children’s Liver Disease Foundation in running the biggest family 10 pinbowling event that they have yet staged. This was a day when we saw at close hand the dignity and courage of so many children and their parents.  It was evident at the members’ carvery lunch at the Seagoe Hotel on 17th November when 64 people met for the afternoon, some for the first time, and shared stories and experiences.  It is evident in dozens of informal contacts within our membership that complements the excellent work on patient care of the committee.  Two years into my time as chairman, I am beginning to see that the role’s emotional journey   is marked at every stage by troughs of sadness and peaks of inspiration – and that while the troughs are low, the peaks are very high.

You will have received a copy of the accounts for the year earlier in the meeting.  These accounts are now with an independent scrutineer, Mr. Alastair White, for review.

 During the year we received £19,325 from friends and supporters of the group – from personal donations, charitable givings from organisations, sales of items and one-off fundraising events.  As a committee, we remain in the fortunate position of not needing to plan our own fundraising projects.  This enables us to focus fully on the central goals of the group, most importantly patient care.  The willingness of so many to support us financially is something for which we remain very grateful.   

Since the AGM of 2013 we have spent £ 4,800 on patient care and £ 17,712 on hospital equipment. In August we purchased 4 CVSM monitors for Ward 6D.  In November we paid for insurance on the fibroscanner and in February we purchased 2 blood sampling stools and 2 blood sampling chairs for the Hepatitis C nurses.  These last resources were purchased following donations from the Joe Watson Foundation.  This Foundation in memory of Joe, a Hepatitis C patient who passed away in July 2013, has also, through the hard work his widow Carol, his sister Ann and other friends and family, provided the Hepatitis C nurses with pill boxes, scales and a laptop for public education.  It has been a pleasure to assist Carol and Ann with sourcing, purchasing and VAT exemption during the year and I wish the Joe Watson Foundation continued success.

Our website has recently been refreshed.  The technical work was done by Gareth Buchanan, who was monitored at every turn by Seamus Cunningham, the committee member who keeps the site updated.  I am grateful to Seamus for looking after the site and to my vice-chair Sharon Millen for looking after our Facebook page.  I hope that when you visit the site you will find it easily navigable and the content clear and interesting.  The site’s address is www.rvhliversupportgroup.org and the Facebook page can be found at www.facebook.co.uk/rvhliversupportgroup.  Please visit both; neither as yet has the level of traffic that I think they deserve. 

We had two excellent members’ meetings this year.  In October Dr. Cadden delivered a detailed and highly engaging account of the work done on the ward during the previous year and of the consultants’ plans for the future.  In February two clinical psychologists, Dr. Chris Tennyson and Dr. Melanie Wolfenden, answered a series of questions about the importance of mental attitudes in healing.  This meeting was notable for the way in which a number of the audience spoke candidly about their own psychological struggles and triumphs following transplants.  As ever, we are very fortunate that busy professional people are so willing to speak at members’ meetings and to ensure that, dare I say it, members of this group are at  least as well informed about current developments in their field of medical interest as members of support groups in other fields.

We continue to be involved in the work of the Northern Ireland Transplant Forum.  This is an umbrella group of charities with an interest in raising public awareness of organ donation. As the Liver Support Group’s representative on this Forum I have, over the past year, helped out at organ donation promotion stands in schools and universities, delivered presentations to school children in Harmony Hill Primary School and Bangor Academy and worked with North Down Council to facilitate the design and construction of a bench in memory of donor families.   As a charity we hosted a pitch at the Forum’s Gift of a Lifetime football tournament in September.  I was fortunate enough to be invited to a meeting with the First and Deputy First Ministers on 25th March.  At this meeting Mrs Jo-Anne Dobson MLA  presented the case for her Private Member’s Bill to introduce as soft opt-out system in Northern Ireland. It was a privilege to be able  present some of the arguments in favour of her bill but also to give our two most prominent politicians an idea of what the experience of waiting for and receiving a liver transplant is like for patients, their families and carers. 

While we work steadily within Northern Ireland only, it is hard not to be aware of the national context of our work.  I was made very aware of this national context when I attended, with some 30 other delegates, the British Liver Trust’s Support Group Conference in Birmingham in November.  As you will know, during the past couple of years liver disease has been in the news.  Sporadic reports are delivered with plenty of drama and wide-eyed concern – and then the whole issue goes away until the next time.  So, Dame Sally Davis, CMO for England, announces the rise in liver disease in the United Kingdom at a time when it was falling across Europe as a major concern in her report of November 2012. In March 2014 the national news again carries a major feature on the rise in liver disease in the United Kingdom at a time when it was falling across Europe.  Data from Northern Ireland seems to support these claims; in 2012 -13, there were 5, 1000 admissions to hospitals for liver-related illness, a rise of 21% on 2011-12, a year which had seen a 28% rise on figures for 2010-11.

And yet, at a time when GPs, hospital staff and transplant teams are battling to save and restore the lives of increasing numbers of people, those who control strategy and funding don’t seem to be battling with quite the same passion.  This would seem to be the case when we hear that interviews for all clinical directors’ posts in NHS England have a patient on the panel – apart from for the Liver/Gastroenterology post.  When we hear that all European countries have universal vaccination for Hepatitis B, apart from Greece and the UK.  When we hear that the British Government reneged, with hardly a word of complaint from anyone, on its pledge to introduce minimum pricing for alcohol.  And when we hear that if you have liver disease in Europe you invariably see a hepatologist – whereas in the U.K. you just might, because there aren’t enough of them in post.

We are a small charity operating solely within Northern Ireland and there is little that we can do to influence any of this.  It is, however, very disappointing that the recognition by health professionals of how serious current levels of liver disease are  and the tireless work of medical staff to cope with it do not seem to be matched by a commensurate commitment on the part of government and NHS management to tackle perhaps the most serious social health issue in these islands.

 In the light of all this, it is particularly pleasing that we will very soon be involved in a major campaign to raise public awareness of liver disease.  Over the next 6 weeks we will be assisting the British Liver Trust as they prepare to bring their Love Your Liver campaign to Northern Ireland for the first time.  The British Liver Trust has been running this campaign in Great Britain for several years and this year was its most successful ever.  In all, their team screened 806 people in 8 different venues, with queues in some places forming before 9 a.m. in the morning.  Of the 594 of these people who were fibroscanned, 124 were referred for further tests as a result of the scan showing some signs of liver damage.  Just as important, those who weren’t referred received the outcomes of their screening and information on changes that could improve their health and reduce the risk of liver disease.  As one of the trustees said, ‘Getting this early warning not only helps the individual but may save the NHS millions.’

The campaign will run from 9 a.m. until roughly 5 p.m. on Tuesday 20th May at Castlecourt Shopping Centre.  We are grateful for the full support of the consultants and look forward, after 16 years of  working steadily on care and healing, to being involved for the first time in a major project aimed at prevention.

 I will finish by thanking you for your support tonight and throughout the year.  I wish you a safe journey home and health and happiness until the next time we meet as a group.