Tuesday 18 June 2019

New master takes reins for 'greatest change in history of maternity hospital'

New arrival: Professor Shane Higgins looks at baby Emily, born 27 seconds after midnight on January 1, held by her mother Natasha with her father Alan Philpott, in the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street, Dublin. Photo: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland
New arrival: Professor Shane Higgins looks at baby Emily, born 27 seconds after midnight on January 1, held by her mother Natasha with her father Alan Philpott, in the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street, Dublin. Photo: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland
Laura Lynott

Laura Lynott

The new Master of the National Maternity Hospital, Professor Shane Higgins, said he was honoured to lead the hospital as it faces "what may be the greatest period of change in its 124-year history".

Prof Higgins took over from Dr Rhona Mahony yesterday to begin a seven-year tenure as staff and patients prepare for a move to St Vincent's Hospital Campus at Elm Park, Dublin.

"This is an extraordinary national institution with an international reputation for excellence," Prof Higgins said.

"And I look forward to working with the staff to bring it through what may be the greatest period of change in its 124-year history. These are both exciting and challenging times for the National Maternity Hospital (NMH). With the commitment of the Government to commence work on the new NMH, we have a clear timeline to relocate to the St Vincent's campus."

Prof Higgins labelled the hospital's staff "an outstanding group of professionals" and added that he looked forward to working with them and "realising the goal of moving to a state-of-the-art facility."

A consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist, Prof Higgins was elected last May by the hospital's governors.

Prof Higgins was inaugurated during a New Year's Day ceremony at the Holles Street hospital after the traditional 'banging of the door' ceremony when the new Master sought admittance to the building. He was welcomed inside by senior midwifery staff and met the first babies born in 2019.

An Act of Celebration during the short ceremony included representatives of inter-faith and secular communities.

Prof Higgins thanked Dr Mahony for her work spanning seven years. During this period, she not only held the highest position but also became a public face for medics and women, as she campaigned for abortion rights. It's expected Prof Higgins will adopt a lower profile than his predecessor. For instance, he has signalled he'd rather not give media interviews until well settled into his office.

A Limerick native, Prof Higgins attended St Michael's CBS on Sexton Street in the city from 1975 until 1981. He graduated from UCC in 1987 and travelled to Australia to work in healthcare.

Prof Higgins, who was clinical lead for the NMH move to the St Vincent's campus, will serve as the 18th Master of the hospital since its foundation in 1894.

A Munster rugby fan, he lectures at UCD in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and has been consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at the NMH since July 2009. Before that, Prof Higgins was clinical director and consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Drogheda from November 2004 until June 2009.

From December 2001 until November 2004, he held the position of senior lecturer at the University of Melbourne, Australia, and prior to that he was at the Royal Women's Hospital in Melbourne.

While at Our Lady's in Drogheda, he was spokesman for the hospital after the publication of the Lourdes Hospital Inquiry report in 2006. That report sparked outcry after it investigated a substantial number of caesarean hysterectomies carried out at the hospital over 25 years by the struck-off obstetrician Michael Neary.

As the clinical lead for the NMH move to the St Vincent's - which will start construction this year - he's been an integral part of the planning process and has advised and consulted the Department of Health and HSE.

He told An Bord Pleanála at a planning hearing last year the development would "significantly elevate" maternity care in Ireland.

Deputy chairman of the hospital board Nicholas Kearns said: "This is the start of a critical period in the history of this great institution and Professor Higgins has both the challenge and the privilege of leading us through the move to the excellent new hospital.

"On behalf of the board, I wish him well."

Irish Independent

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