Dr McGinley on 25 years of Foyle Hospice Care in Derry

editorial image

It was a young, determined Tom McGinley who made a passionate plea for help to the ladies at a coaching session in 1983 at Templemore Sports Complex in preparation for the first ever local ladies only run organised by Pat Devine and local Sparta Club. It was named the “Foyle Female 5K”.

Earlier that evening the Derry doctor had read an article in a local paper asking the people of the North West to help raise money to build a hospice in Belfast which was to cater for the whole of N. Ireland.

He quickly realised this money had to be prevented from leaving the North West.

That night Dr McGinley explained that fundraising in a big way was imperative.

It didn’t take the people of the North West long to rally round.

“We need a hospice and we need it now” was his appeal. Those present were from Tyrone, Derry and Donegal and approximately £10,000 was raised, no mean sum in 1983.”

In the peace and tranquillity of Foyle Hospice building on Culmore Road Dr Tom reflects back to the moving story of how a Derry teenager dying from advanced cancer, Michael, made him first think of the need for a hospice for the local area.

“Doctors Peter Fallon, Vincent Cavanagh and myself would call with this young boy a few times daily and each night but his medication was not effective enough to relieve his pain,” he said.

“There was an understanding at that time about giving morphine too early in case the patient would become addicted and the advice was that strong drugs should be kept until the end. In those days we didn’t have the same formulations of morphine and other drugs we have now. Michael suffered quite a lot of pain. His death triggered my interest in hospice care. I felt so inadequate in my failure to relieve his pain”.

“In those early years of hospice care anaesthetists were often called upon to provide pain relief and so to enhance my knowledge of pain relief I commenced sessional work in anaesthetics in Altnagelvin Hospital whilst continuing full time work as a G.P.

“The consultant in charge advised me that I should study to gain a specialist degree in the subject. Since I was not working full time in this specialty it took quite a few years but in 1978 I received my fellowship in anaesthetics.

“It was after that I became heavily involved in hospice/palliative care and spent a lot of my holiday time in St. Joseph’s Hospice in east London.

“The late Dame Cicely Saunders who previously had spent quite a lot of time at St. Joseph’s Hospice used to visit on many occasions and she provided great support for me”.

Over the next few years Dr Tom was regularly involved in giving educational talks to other medical professionals at post graduate medical centres in the North and South in the subject of pain relief and terminal care.

And in 1981 he made the decision to start fundraising for the hospice in Derry. There were signs locally that the days of political turmoil were coming to an end and he felt the time was right for the whole community to embrace his project. Following the success of the Foyle Female 5K in 1983 many fundraising events were undertaken by the community.

Dr Tom remembers with great clarity the first cheque presentation in 1983 from a group in Marlborough Road and this was soon followed by a fundraising effort by Tillie and Henderson’s and nearby shops.

A fancy dress dance organised by junior doctors in Altnagelvin Hospital also raised a considerable amount of money. However it was during the launch of the weekly draw on the Don O’ Doherty show on Radio Foyle that Dr Tom saw just how strongly the people of the North West were behind him.

He asked people interested in becoming a promoter or joining the draw to contact Aberfoyle Surgery.

“There were so many callers, they jammed the surgery phones all afternoon” he recalls. “The patients couldn’t get through on the phones.” Dr Tom reminisces in today’s world of automated answering on telephones , it would mean choosing option 1 for appointments, option 2 for prescriptions and option 7 to join the Hospice Draw!

The first weekly draw took place on 12th December 1985 at the hospice premises in Crawford Square. Many of the promoters who signed up that day are still promoters in the weekly draw today. Jean Begley who manned the phones in the surgery herself became the first promoter. The official launch of the Hospice Appeal Fund took place in the Guildhall in January 1984 and present were Dr Tom, Dr Keith Munro, Bishop Daly and Bishop Mehaffey, Mayor Len Green, Ken Goodall, Grainne Nugent and Hugh McElhinney.

Following that, donations came flooding in. The plans were ongoing to proceed for a hospice in Derry.

Tom had already his sights set on a plot on the Culmore Road which was owned by the Orange Order

“I wanted that site because the building would face the newly built Foyle Bridge,” he said. “The bridge as an emblem had so much significance. First of all it indicated that what we were trying to do for people with a terminal illness was to bridge a gap between life and death and to give people a helping hand to cross that bridge.

“It was also symbolic of a bridge between two communities and a geographical bridge into Donegal.

“It was obvious that we needed the support of Donegal and that’s what happened. There was no other site for me”. Two Homecare nurses were appointed in 1985, and they commenced their hospice work in early 1986,

Rosemary Peoples and Hannah Healy, who had done their training in Palliative Care in St. Mary’s Hospice, Birmingham and St Joseph’s Hospice, London.

Homecare nurses at that time covered the whole of the North West, to include counties Tyrone, Derry, Fermanagh and Donegal. The only funding was from the National Society for Cancer Relief who funded the two nurses for two years. The hospice building on the Culmore Road finally opened its doors on June 20th 1991 – a day many people recall not just for the glorious sunshine which came out of days of continual rain but for the huge milestone the opening of a hospice would be for the people of the North West.

“It was a very momentous day”, said Dr Mc Ginley. “ I was extremely emotional when I was presented with a specially designed Tipperary crystal replica of the new bridge.

“The bridge was given in memory of my mother who often talked about life being a journey and that we are all on that journey”.

“Two young girls whose mothers had died from cancer and had been looked after by Homecare Nurses, Rosemary and Hannah, performed the act of cutting the ribbon on that day. There was a prolonged and emotional applause as the two girls with their fathers were the first to step inside the hospice.

“Since that day in 1991 several developments followed and the hospice provides Homecare, Inpatient Unit Care, Daycare and Bereavement Care.” 25 years on and Tom Mc Ginley said from the day he first dreamed of bringing a hospice to Derry he never doubted that the people of Derry would come through “I don’t believe it could have happened anywhere else”, he said. A lot of that support came from the working people of Derry.

“As a GP for many years I spent a lot of time doing house calls. They were common in those early days. Once I launched the appeal my patients reassured me that I had their full support.

“They totally agreed that there was a need for a hospice in the North West and they continue to support us to this day”. “The whole attitude to terminally ill patients has changed over the years, this was brought about initially by the late Dame Cicely Saunders in the late 1960’s in London whi said that there had to be a change among medical personnel in their attitude towards patients dying from cancer and other life limiting illnesses.

“She used to state that “Patients with incurable illness must no longer be viewed as medical failures for whom nothing more can be done. They need palliative care, which does not mean a second-rate soft option, but treatment which most people will need at some point in their lives and many from the time of diagnosis, demanding as much skill and commitment as is normally brought into preventing, investigating and curing illness. “Some of the many things that shape the Hospice philosophy include providing the best quality of life for patients, supporting their families, and sharing truthful information about diagnosis and treatment.

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has been involved in the past 25 years in the success of Foyle Hospice. In particular I would like to thank all of the staff and all of our many volunteers who have worked so hard here over these years and have contributed to the success of our hospice.”

The ‘Journal’ will be running a series of articles on the many aspects of Hospice life this Summer.

A series of events have been planned for the 25th anniversary including a palliative care conference, in the Everglades Hotel in May.

More details of this and other events can be got from the Hospice on 71351010.