Introducing the new Chair

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Firstly, I would like to introduce myself as the new Chair of the British Lourdes Medical Association (BLMA). My name is Dr. Jane Pateman, and I am an anaesthetist from Sussex who travels with the Arundel and Brighton Diocesan Pilgrimage. I have been going to Lourdes most years since 1997 and am the Chief Medical Officer for our pilgrimage. I am very proud to have been elected as the Chair, and hope that the BLMA will provide a useful forum and resource for the considerable numbers of healthcare professionals across the country who give up their time to take the sick to Lourdes. I was delighted last year when the BLNA (British Lourdes Nurses Association) decided that their future lay with the doctors of the LMA (Lourdes Medical Association) and we formed the new combined group, as I strongly feel that we will work better when together to support and inform our members.


Its been a busy first few weeks in office!


We started at the end of January with a very successful annual conference in Birmingham. This was our first as a combined organisation of multi-professionals, and we had full and enthusiastic participation in the weekend’s events from all our nurses and doctors. It started with vespers in the cathedral on Friday, led by our chaplain, Canon Gerry Breen and seminarian Jason. At the AGM on Saturday morning, we welcomed two new council members Paula Mitchell and Nicky Wisdom, from Birmingham and Lancaster respectively.  We also elected a new vice chair, Kim O’Connor, as well as confirming my own appointment, and said a big thank you to the outgoing chair, Joe Booker, and to the secretary Joe O’Dwyer, who has moved into a role supporting the international relationships of the group. Jenny Klimiuk has taken on the role of the administrative secretary, many thanks to her for this.


The scientific programme of the weekend was excellent and varied. The talks where possible are on the website for you to read. The first session addressed practical clinical aspects. Sian Davies gave us a thought provoking talk about practical aspects of palliative care on pilgrimage then Lynn Wright gave us a great update on pressure sores and wound dressings, which I personally found very helpful. The next session was devoted to the experience of working as a professional in Lourdes, with Joe O’Dwyer setting the scene with a talk about morale in medicine in general, followed by our newest council member Paula who described an innovative approach to allowing student nurses to participate on pilgrimage as part of their university-approved elective period. We are very keen to hear more about how this was for all her participants after the summer.  Imelda Hughes then gave us a flavour of her impressions as a Lourdes first-timer, having been “recruited” by the enthusiasm of her daughter!


After lunch we spent the next session reviewing the draft competency documents in groups, and making refinements to them.  These are a set of clinical domains developed from the RCGP competencies, that pilgrimage teams can use to assess whether they have adequate plans in place to ensure good clinical care for their assisted pilgrims. These competencies will also be posted on the web site in the near future. Four pilgrimages will be using the system as a pilot this year, although others are very welcome to use and adapt as they wish, as long as you agree to give us feedback! After this, we had a compelling talk from Canon Gerry on the 2017 theme, “The Lord has done great things for me”. 


After our dinner on Saturday, which was attended by 40 of us, there were two sessions on Sunday morning. These were very much about audience participation. Discussing problems we have experienced and how we managed is always felt to be extremely useful by the participants, and is a good way of spreading knowledge between pilgrimages, rather than each having to learn the hard way! Certainly, we have already asked some relevant questions about our own plans since the meeting. The last session was on recruitment in the future, building on the session from the day before, but this really needs more emphasis, so perhaps at the next conference…….?


After this, some of us were off to Lourdes itself within a few days. Six council members (myself, Kim, Sue Brown, Joe O’D, Nicky and Paula) as well as our Chaplain, were part of their own pilgrimages delegations to the annual pilgrimage directors planning meeting, held around the feast day of Our Lady. For those of you with an interest, I can thoroughly recommend this trip, where you see Lourdes in a slightly different light. Its cold, closed up and very very quiet when you arrive. Then over a 24 hour period, it all comes alive for the biggest international mass you are likely to see in the underground basilica. Forty-eight hours later Lourdes is back to very quiet and mostly closed up. (But still cold!). This was my third year attending, as an LMA then a BLMA representative, and I find it a wonderful time of year for my own intentions, rather than in the summer when its all go, and you can feel you aren’t really there yourself! This year, as it was the 25th World Day of the Sick there was also a special Vatican delegation and a conference or Colloquium. The one day medical conference was very well attended, and had a number of breakout workshops, discussing everything from “the practical aspects of pilgrimage medicine” (complete with our own Joe O’D talking in French) to “the contribution of the sick and aged to humanity and to the church”.


As this was an international group, with the English speakers very much in the minority, it was also good to learn more about other nations approach. I was particularly impressed by the speaker from UNITALSI, the Italian overarching national group, who had figures on trends of participation of various groups, essential for us to work towards a viable future for our pilgrimages. I also had a productive discussion with Michael Moran of Seirbhis, and agreed a more formal approach to collaboration going forward between the two British Isles Associations.


Prior to this, at our short mini-council meeting back in January, we agreed to take three important areas forward as our priorities for 2017. These are 1) Communications 2) Competence 3) Recruitment. It will be my intention to provide updates to these themes on the website during the year, and I would encourage those of you who are interested or have views they wish to see included, to get in touch:


February 2017