By Roshni D’Souza
Dr Niamh O’Brien from Mervue, Galway won the Dr Fiona Bradley award last week for her work in medicine, recognising her contribution towards making a difference in healthcare.
The University of Galway alumni was really surprised when she first heard about winning the award. “I’d heard that I’d been nominated and that I’d won it at the same time. I didn’t know that I’d been nominated”.
Dr O’Brien had seen her colleagues win it, but never thought it would be her turn one day.
“I know some of the past recipients of the award and a lot of them would do similar work to me. Knowing those very high achieving doctors, it’s not something that I expected to get myself,” she says.
Need for More Women in Medicine
Dr O’Brien believes that in the field of general practice, the more women the better.
“Equality in healthcare and medicine is really important. So often women are at a disadvantage, so having women advocate for women is a great value,” says Dr O’Brien.
She adds, “So many issues that are important to patients, especially to patients that attend their GP, are those that are very relevant to women.”
These include reproductive rights, women’s healthcare, and a generally good care for the family, which very often is the responsibility of a woman.
She asks more women GPs to be retained in rural areas and in socio-economically disadvantaged regions.
While Galway fairs better than other counties with over 150 GPs listed by the HSE under the General Medical Services (GMS) Scheme.
The numbers are much lesser in areas like Oughterard and Loughrea as compared to Galway City.
Dr O’Brien encouraged more GPs by saying that “the general practice training programmes are very well resourced”.
“They provide an excellent level of training in both the medical and mental healthcare of our patients,” she said.
Interlinkage of Mental and Physical Health
Dr O’Brien also says that mental and physical health are both interlinked. This knowledge makes her more aware of a patient’s mental health needs.
“It comes up more often than not in our interaction with outpatients,” she says.
She worked for the Galway Drug Treatment Centre with clinical specialist Orla O’Brien. The centre is a part of the HSE West Addiction Services.
Dr. O’Brien says that any person or family can be affected by dependence disorders. She believes it must be given just as much emphasis as other medical conditions.
She says, “I think the most important thing is to have an open, non-judgemental attitude towards a person who is struggling with a dependence disorder such as drug addiction.”
Dr O’Brien’s insistence on advocating for her patients was one of the biggest reasons why she won the award. She believes that patient advocacy is a collaboration between doctor and patient to achieve the “best possible outcome”.
“They might not have the confidence or they might not have the level of help. They also might not have the socio-economic advantage to be able to self-advocate.”
Dr Fiona Bradley contributed immensely to healthcare in Ireland by studying how HIV/AIDS affects prisoners. It helped change prison healthcare. She died in 2002 following a prolonged illness.
Her family presents the award every year in remembrance of her.