Catholic Medical Quarterly Volume 67(3) August 2017

The British Lourdes Medical Association Annual Conference and AGM,
27-29 JANUARY, 2017.

Dr Joe O’Dwyer

Lourdes-statueOnce again members of the BLMA returned to Birmingham the last weekend in January for this, the 43rd conference and the first to be held since the official amalgamation of the LMA and the BLNA to form the BLMA. The meeting was held in Cathedral House all day Saturday and again on Sunday morning. Those who arrived on Friday evening were able to take part in Vespers at 1930 in St Chad’s cathedral, led by Jason, one of the local seminarians from St Mary’s College, Oscott. It would be fair to say that the assembled company were challenged by the hymns but nevertheless joined enthusiastically in the psalms. Following vespers everyone gathered in the bar of the Royal Angus Hotel for a drink and a catch up.

On Saturday 28th we started with Morning Prayer before getting down to the business of the AGM. In all, about 50 delegates came for the AGM and the subsequent talks and discussions. Perhaps the most significant news to report from the AGM is that recruitment of nurses into the amalgamated organisation and onto Council is progressing satisfactorily. Two nurses, Paula Mitchell of Birmingham and Nicky Wisdom of Lancaster, were elected onto Council; in addition, Kim O’Connor, who goes on pilgrimage with Leeds and Newcastle Dioceses and who was chair of the BLNA prior to its disbandment, was elected unopposed to the post of Vice-Chair of the BLMA. In this role she will support Jane Pateman, Chief Medical Officer of the Arundel & Brighton Pilgrimage, who has taken over as Chairman in succession to Joe Booker of Birmingham.

The overall theme of the conference was of recruiting the next generation of helpers. One of the noticeable changes in recent years has been a reluctance of healthcare staff to work outside their specialist field for fear of lacking the skills needed and, possibly too, for fear of litigation. This affects recruitment to pilgrimage healthcare teams and seems to apply equally to older and younger clinicians. The BLMA is keen to address this by promoting competency as a means both of identifying the core competencies required for healthcare workers on pilgrimage and of reassuring healthcare workers across the spectrum of disciplines that they individually possess many of these competencies and collectively as a team can have confidence in covering most, if not all, of them. In this way a team can plan for future pilgrimages by conducting needs assessments on prospective assisted pilgrims, determining the packages of care required to look after them appropriately and putting in place a team with the appropriate competencies. Where a deficit in competency is highlighted then the organisation has the option of sourcing the persons and/or equipment to meet the need or of selectively restricting assisted pilgrims accepted until the balance of needs and competencies is met.

There were a number of talks in the morning. Sian Davies, a palliative care physician, spoke about Practical Palliative Care on Pilgrimage. She used the acronym PEPSI to look at the different aspects of care that need to be considered – physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual and inter­personal. Her talk was well received and gave rise to a number of questions later in the day.

Lynn Wright spoke about pressure sores and dressings, in particular getting us to think about the nature of several different sores and the requirements of a dressing in each case. Her talk was of necessity an overview and feedback indicated an appetite to learn more about this at a future meeting.

Joe O’Dwyer gave a brief outline of measuring subjective wellbeing as an indicator of relative morale and how this had shown a dip in morale in junior doctors following the recent conflict over their new contract. This drop in morale was reflected more widely by other studies and some suggestions for ways to improve workforce morale had been advocated.

Paula Mitchell told us of an exciting initiative between the Diocese of Birmingham and the Universities of Keele and De Montfort in which nursing students and, in some cases, their tutors, were coming to Lourdes this year as part of the diocesan pilgrimage and that this time would be recognised as one week of overseas placement for these students. Interest had been high among both staff and students and it was a model that might equally work for other pilgrimages. This would be the first year of the initiative.

Imelda Hughes spoke briefly about her experience as a doctor in Lourdes. Although many years in clinical practice, she had never been to Lourdes as a clinician with a pilgrimage until 2016 when she went with Salford Diocese. She shared her insights and encouraged those of us who had been coming for many years by saying that she had found it very rewarding and hoped to return.

After lunch the workshop on competency took place. The key message was that, for any individual sick pilgrim, a package of care that catered to that pilgrim’s needs would need to be in place. For most pilgrims this would be straightforward but for pilgrims with complex medical and nursing needs this might be more problematic. The individualised package of care required might be such that it exceeded or proved too great a demand on the collective competencies available within the pilgrimage. In this case one option would be to refuse the pilgrim a place on this occasion. An alternative would be to source appropriate additional personnel and or equipment/resources such that the competency was being met. The competency frame­work was thus a tool which should prove useful for pilgrimages to plan and deliver appropriate care to all. It is hoped that the framework will be piloted by Arundel and Brighton, Leeds and Birmingham pilgrimages this year.

To round off the proceedings on Saturday Canon Gerry Breen, Chaplain to the BLMA, delivered a talk to the theme for Lourdes 2017 – ‘The Lord has done great things for me”. At 1630 we were privileged to attend Mass celebrated by Archbishop Bernard Longley during the course of which he generously mentioned the BLMA on several occasions. As is traditional, there was an Annual Dinner on Saturday night in the Royal Angus Hotel, the highlight of which was Dr Kieran Moriarty demonstrating that when he finally hangs up his stethoscope, he will still be able to earn his crust as a stand-up comic and entertainer. On Sunday morning we had useful discussions of several clinical incidents relating to travel, including the difficulties encountered in providing appropriate support staff to stay behind with pilgrims unfit to travel on the return journey from Lourdes. We identified that many pilgrimage medical teams do not have major incident escalation plans and agreed that this was an area for development. We discussed ways to recruit nurses and doctors and whether there were possibilities to use other healthcare staff in their place.

Throughout the conference there was a lively discussion among delegates and much exchange of ideas. One common request was to place the material discussed on the BLMA website ( so that it would be available to delegates and colleagues for future reference. Feedback following the conference was very positive and we are encouraged to start planning for next year’s event, to be held in Leeds (and not Nottingham as suggested at the meeting) with a light heart.

The BLMA exists to support all healthcare workers who undertake pilgrimage to Lourdes and would like to encourage them all to join. The more people who join and who participate in the activities of the BLMA the greater value it will prove to all its members. Currently the Website is undergoing significant updating and one focus of this will be to create a members area with a wide range of resource material pertaining to the many practical issues that we, as healthcare workers accompanying pilgrimages to Lourdes, encounter.