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CITY TRIBUNE

NUIG teaching staff ‘will not cooperate with unsafe work practices’

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Unions representing teaching staff at NUI Galway have expressed deep concerns that social distancing will not be possible when classes return at the end of the month.

Guidance issued to third level institutes from the Department of Higher Education recommends that a physical distance of two metres during lectures should be maintained “where possible”, but adds that there will be situations where classes can only be delivered with less than two metres.

In this instance, no less than one-metre distance should be maintained, and face coverings should be worn.

However, over 100 staff members of teaching staff at the university who are members of SIPTU academic section unanimously passed a resolution last Wednesday in which they agreed that they would not cooperate with unsafe work practices.

“The members of SIPTU Academic Section resolve that members will not cooperate with unsafe work practices including one-metre centre-to-centre distancing in teaching venues for students and/or staff, in contradiction of best-practice two metre distance,” states the adopted resolution.

They noted the university’s commitment to ‘prioritise the health, safety and wellbeing of staff, students and the wider community above all other considerations’, but concerns remain.

They called on the university to adopt a more “sustainable, low-risk, welfare-based approach, which can be built on cautiously, where any agreed on-campus activity, including teaching and learning will be set at the standard two-metre distance as a default and any decisions on the amount and type of any face-to-face teaching are safety rather than target-driven”.

Their resolution states that SIPTU members are not compelled to work in an environment that jeopardises their safety, or that of the students.

Members resolved to withhold their cooperation until agreement on a physical design and working practice that supports a default two-metre distancing is arrived at and installed.

In a separate letter, sent to the Galway City Tribune from a lecturer who wished to remain anonymous, it’d claimed that NUIG was instructing staff to teach with one-metre distance “as standard, in classroom and theatre situations”.

“This is not about labs or any other scenario where distance is a factor in the practicality of teaching. It’s a gross distortion of the IUA [Irish Universities Association] guidelines, which themselves are an ambiguous stretch of the Government guidelines,” said the lecturer, referring to the IUA’s published interpretation of guidelines which state that only in “exceptional circumstances” should less than two metres be observed.

“Control and decision-making has been centralised; usually, decisions about teaching are made by College Boards, where every academic staff member has a vote, and the Registrar appears in person. There hasn’t been a College Board meeting since before lockdown,” the lecturer writes.

Meanwhile, SIPTU has called on the Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris to provide clarity on how the guidelines, which were published last month, should be implemented.

“Some colleges are proposing continued online learning and others are opting for ‘face-to-face’ learning with one-metre social distancing. It is important that there is a high degree of uniformity and clarity on these guidelines for the sector. Such a clear and coherent approach is all the more necessary in light of the increase in the rate of recorded cases of Covid-19 since the guidelines were first published,” said Adrian Kane, SIPTU’s Public Administration and Community Division Organiser.

A statement from NUIG to the Galway City Tribune outlined that the maximum number of people allowed in a class “will be in accordance with the prevailing public health guidance on indoor gatherings. This may change in accordance with the evolving Covid-19 situation nationally”.

“Our preparations include a range of procedures and protocols to ensure our community’s safety, including social distancing, along with a number of other important control measures to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.

“As required by the ‘Implementation Guidelines for Public Health Measures in Higher Education Institutions’, space on campus, including teaching space will be ‘laid out and managed in order to safeguard the health of both staff and students’. A physical distance of two metres is maintained as default in all campus settings ‘where possible’.

“In all cases, without exception, staff and students will be required to take appropriate mitigation measures, including the wearing of face visors and face masks at all times in indoor settings on campus, as well as adherence to good hygiene etiquette. The university is engaging with academic staff representatives to reach agreement this week on planning parameters.”

CITY TRIBUNE

Blue Teapot instilling creativity in people with intellectual disabilities

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Graduation day at Blue Teapot’s Performing Arts School for people with intellectual disabilities can be bitter-sweet, according to the school’s co-ordinator, Ana Belle Alvarez.

“In some ways, you feel very sad when they’re gone when they graduate. After three years of sharing moments, and sharing so many things, it can be sad. But then it’s exciting when you have the new people coming in as well,” she said.

The Performing Arts School at Munster Avenue in the city is one strand of the Blue Teapot brand, which is now inviting new recruits for the semester beginning next September.

The other better-known strand is its Ensemble, also based at Munster Avenue, which includes a professional troupe of actors, who stage performances at their own theatre space and elsewhere, throughout the year.

One aim of those who join the former is, ultimately, to land a role in the latter.

“That’s the dream. We don’t have the capacity (to meet demand) but that’s the aim of everyone,” said Ana, a Spaniard, who has been with Blue Teapot for almost six years.

Many in the professional Ensemble were schooled in the Blue Teapot Performing Arts School.

Two students who graduated last year are now part of the 11-strong Ensemble, which had two spaces available.

But even those who don’t progress to a professional career in theatre with Blue Teapot will benefit from the course which is Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) accredited, according to one of a handful of well-known teachers at the school, Rod Goodall.

“To be trained in the arts – drama, dance, music and so – does not mean that the student will achieve a career in these disciplines. It means that they’ll enjoy more creativity, more confidence and be better equipped for social interactions in their lives,” said the drama tutor and theatre director.

There is some crossover, though.

“Sometimes, it has been the case where the students of the Performing Arts School, participate in a production with the professional actors,” explained Ana.

“Parallel to that, our drama teacher sometimes produces a theatre show just for the students to showcase to their family members,” she said.

The three-year programme leads to a certification in QQI Levels 2 and 3. It is an opportunity for people with intellectual disabilities, who are aged 18 and over, to access formal training.

Modules include drama, music, drawing, costume, design and event participation. The programme also incorporates life-skills training including interpersonal skills, online safety, health and fitness.

Literacy and IT supports are provided by Galway Adult Basic Education Services.

“Every training programme is very structured and the students work really hard in the classes, learning so many skills and it’s all very practical but they have fun as well,” said Ana.

When asked to describe the sort of people with intellectual disabilities the school is looking to recruit, Ana said: “Anyone who has a passion for the arts; a passion for performing arts; anyone who has a passion for the theatre.”

School is on Monday to Thursday, 10am-3pm. Much of the programme focuses on personal development where learners can fulfil their artistic potential.

“To be able to develop their own potential and their own ideas, everything we do with tutors is based in the student’s own creativity and their own ideas. If they’re creating a mask, for example, it’s based on their own research of what they like, and they transform what they like, and their own personality and creativity, and they transfer that into their final work,” she said.

The company liaises with organisations such as Ability West and Brothers of Charity during its recruitment drive, and it also contacts schools for school-leavers with intellectual disabilities who are seeking a new challenge.

Ana’s biggest problem is that they have capacity for an intake of just five people every year.

“It’s very hard because we have many people applying for the Performing Arts School, and we only have five places. You’d love to take everyone, but the reality is we don’t have the capacity,” she said.

*The deadline for applications is Friday, February 3, at 5pm. For further information or to request a brochure visit the website, email or contact 087 652 0146.

“Photo: Blue Teapot members Michael Hayes and Valerie Egan on the set designed by Sabine Dargent and with costumes designed by Charmian Goodall).

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CITY TRIBUNE

Taoiseach to look at Minor Injuries Unit for Galway

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An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said the Government will consider a new Minor Injuries Unit for Galway.

During Leaders Questions in the Dáil on Tuesday, Independent TD for Galway West, Noel Grealish made the case for a new Minor Injuries Unit (MIU).

Deputy Grealish said there are 15 of these MIUs dotted around the country, but none in Galway . . . and they are proven to help relieve pressure in Emergency Departments.

“The Emergency Department at UHG remains one of the busiest in the country, without the relief that would be provided by thousands of people being redirected to a Minor Injuries Unit,” he said.

Mr Varadkar replied that MIUs worked extremely well “with people with minor injuries not having to go to very busy and crowded emergency departments and, more important, people with minor injuries who need to be seen and to receive healthcare getting that healthcare in an uncrowded and more humane setting within a few hours.

“We are happy to give consideration to a Minor Injury Unit for Galway but I am not at liberty to make that commitment here and now. We will certainly take it seriously, however,” said An Taoiseach.

Deputy Grealish has also stated that it is unrealistic to believe that a new elective hospital for Galway could be built within four or five years.

“Realistically, it could take 15 years or more, given that the recently-opened radiotherapy unit in Galway took over 14 years to deliver.

“And the Taoiseach himself acknowledged in his response to me that so many important projects in the west have been delayed, particularly the emergency department and the paediatric and maternity units at University Hospital Galway, which, in his own words, should have been under construction by now, let alone have gone to planning.

“Given the track record of the HSE in delivering projects, I believe that a new elective hospital could be years away and a minor injuries unit should be provided in Galway to help provide some relief.  I intend to pursue this further with the Minister for Health and the HSE over the coming months,” Deputy Grealish said.

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CITY TRIBUNE

Groundbreaking coronary operation at UHG offers vision of future healthcare

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The announcement this week that Galway University Hospitals carried out the first robotic guided coronary intervention in Ireland and UK, has given researchers a glimpse into the future possibilities presented by this medical breakthrough.

Currently, University Hospital Galway is the centre of excellence for cardiovascular medicine for one million people in the West and North West.

It’s where patients from Sligo, Donegal and elsewhere go for coronary procedures, such as the insertion of stents to relieve blockages in the arteries of the heart.

That involves hours of travel, on top of lengthy procedures, which can be exhausting for patients.

But one potential benefit of new robotic technology is the prospect of remote procedures, explained Professor Faisal Sharif, Consultant Cardiologist, who carried out the first procedure in Ireland or UK, at UHG.

“I think we will see in the future more advantages, and value, when these procedures can be done remotely,” Prof Sharif told the Tribune.

This would involve a patient going to Sligo University Hospital or Letterkenny University Hospital to have a stent procedure, which would be carried out via the internet by a robotic ‘hand’ controlled by a consultant cardiologist based at UHG.

Obviously, the basic structures and a trained crew would need to be available in Sligo or Letterkenny, including nurses and junior doctors.

And Prof Sharif cautioned that for remote procedures to become reality here, there needs to be more research and development and more funding.

“That’s the potential and that’s the future but it hasn’t come yet,” he said.

What has come is exciting, too, though.

Before Christmas, Prof Sharif carried out three procedures which combined the benefits of coronary intervention with the precision of robotics.

The new technology is used in stent procedures to relieve blockages in the arteries of the heart. It allows for greater precision in positioning stents, allowing the interventional cardiologists to move the stent a millimetre at a time.

It also allows the medical team to have an enhanced, close-up view of the angiographic images and information during the entire procedure.

The new technology allows interventional cardiologists to use the robot as an extension of their own hand, allowing for robotic precision and details visualisation when positioning of guide catheters, guide-wires and balloon or stent catheters.

Prof Sharif said the technology was beneficial both to the patient and to the cardiologist.

“The main advantage of robotics is that it is safe and very precise in stent placement. It allows the accurate placement for up to 1mm at a time,” he said.

For the patient, this increased precision means less metallic material in the arteries, “and so less long-term side effects from that metal”.

The use of robotics also benefits staff, meaning fewer back injuries, less exposure to radiation and more precise placement of stents, he said.

Prof Sharif said UHG would be performing these procedures more regularly. They’ve started with straightforward cases, and over time, when they understand more about it, and the volume increases, they will increase complexity.

Seven more procedures are planned for the next fortnight but won’t entirely replace the traditional method, he said.

“Physicians learn a technique to do things over many years. That’s our livelihood, that’s what we do. If we bring machines in, there is going to be resistance. But at the moment, it’s to see the positive side of things, see how it can improve outcomes, how it can do things more safely, how it can take the load off physicians, who will still be fully trained to do it.

“It is just assistance. I think we need to learn what the potential is. It won’t replace anything. If any hospital has 10 operators, four or five may adopt it, others may stay the traditional way. I think the change will be slow. But I hope over time when they see the results they might like to change,” he said.

Originally from Pakistan, Prof Sharif’s home for 26 years is Ireland. As well as clinical work, the academic part of his job involves University of Galway tutoring and research commitments.

He’s a founder member of a university programme on medical device innovation called BioInnovate Ireland, which has developed start-ups over 10 years.

That synergy, as well as funding through Science Foundation Ireland, led to the first robotic procedure in Ireland and the UK taking place in Galway.

“In Galway we have a big medical device sector. It’s the ideal place to be for medical device developments, especially cardiovascular,” he added.

Chris Kane, General Manager of Galway University Hospitals welcomed the new technology.

“Innovations such as this are transforming medicine . .  . this state-of-the-art robotics will enhance patient care for our patients across the West and Northwest of Ireland,” she added.

(Photo: The robotic guided coronary intervention at UHG. It was the first such procedure in Ireland and the UK).

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