After three long years as chairman, Professor Shaughn O’Brien is leaving the North Staffordshire Medical Institute. The obstetrician and gynaecologist takes a moment to reflect on his time at the helm.
“It’s a lovely building for meeting and conferences,” he says. “It’s a good focus for research, a good focus for postgraduate education, it’s a good focus for the community and it’s a good focus for people people putting on meetings an conferences of a high standard.”
During two separate tenures as chairman, Prof. O’Brien has seen the Institute through some challenging times. His first, from 2002 to 2005, included the biggest shake-up in the charity’s history when the hospital trust’s Clinical Education Centre, part of Keele University’s Medical School, was built at the University Hospital of the North Midlands.
The Institute, which had been the area’s main teaching centre for postgraduate medicine, was suddenly left with less purpose and little funding.
“The medical library was moved and all the funding went with it,” says Prof. O’Brien. “In the process of that we had to really set up the Institute as a conference centre. One of the key things we achieved was to make sure we took ownership of the land rather than leasing it from the NHS – and more importantly for conferences, the whole of the parking facilities.
“We also made a lot of changes to the structure of our grants, making them pump-priming for new researchers.”
Appointed vice chairman of the Royal College of Gynaecologists (RCOG) in 2004, Prof. O’Brien stepped back from the Institute to concentrate on the role and his own research. He found himself taking the reins again in 2015, admitting: “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
The chairman went on to face another period of change with his trademark creativity and vision. His legacy at the Institute includes their support for the annual Firelighter Awards, organised by Keele University’s Dr Adam Farmer, which give NHS staff the chance to pitch for medical research grants in a Dragon’s Den-style competition.
He also arranged Institute funding for the ASPIRE programme at Keele University, designed to help medical students engage with academic research. The scheme is led by Professor Divya Chari and Dr Samantha Hider.
Prof. O’Brien is now behind plans to rebrand the Institute as part of a major refurbishment project. The facility will even be given a new name – as yet being kept under wraps.
He says: “We’ve had a significant donation to allow us to redevelop the Institute as North Staffordshire’s high-profile, named conference centre. It should highlight our ability to hold conferences which are not only medical, while retaining the loyalty we’ve built up with our existing customers.”
While he hopes to remain involved with the building work, the father-of-two already knows how he will fill his semi-retirement. It will begin with his valedictory meeting at the RCOG in September.
As well as his continuing research and private practice, he plans to devote the extra hours to his artistic side.
He says: “I’ve already begun to go to sculpture school in London, I’ve got some pieces in the Medical Art Society’s Annual Exhibition at the Royal Society of Medicine in July. I also want to get back to playing the clarinet and saxophone some more.”
Prof. O’Brien has been replaced as chairman by Mr John Muir, the UK’s longest-serving NHS consultant.