A visit to the Ulster Hospital in Dundonald brought back many memories to the current Presbyterian Moderator, Rt Rev Dr Sam Mawhinney. Having studied to be a GP, which included 5 years training in a number of Northern Ireland’s hospitals, he then went on to become an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, and is now the denomination’s Moderator.
As part of his recent Presbytery Tour of East Belfast, the first of four such tours that he will undertake during his year as Moderator, Dr Mawhinney visited the hospital’s new Acute Services Building, which includes its state-of-the-art Emergency Department (ED). Opened last month, the ED was the final stage of a £280 million redevelopment project at the site. During his visit he met with senior management, including Deputy Chief Executive, David Robinson, and members of the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust’s 20-strong chaplaincy team, who work at the hospital.
Dr Mawhinney said that after he left Queen’s University, Belfast in the mid-1980s, he spent five years working in a number of hospitals as part of his training before qualifying as a GP in 1991. These included Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry and the Waveney Hospital in Ballymena. “In many ways my visit was like a trip down memory lane, but to be perfectly honest, the hospital’s new Acute Services Building, and Emergency Department, were a far cry from what I was used to during my time as a trainee doctor over 30 years ago. From what I heard from David Robinson, and what I saw, is a world away from those days, with much more integration, in terms of service provision, and the way in which the hospital works,” he said.
“In these post Covid times, and with all the pressures and issues that the NHS faces at the moment, all staff, the doctors, nurses, porters, cleaners, the management team, and the chaplains, everyone, are certainly deserving of our prayers. For the indispensable work that they all do, in the difficult and demanding circumstances that they face, on behalf of PCI, I would like to say a huge ‘thank you’.”
During his morning visit, he also had the opportunity to meet with some of the Ulster’s Chaplaincy team, including the Methodist, Presbyterian, Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic Chaplains, who are led by the Lead Chaplain, Rev Don Gamble.
Speaking about the visit, Mr Gamble said, “We very much welcomed and appreciated Dr Mawhinney’s visit, his interest in our work and his prayers. We are very much part of the Hospital’s multi-disciplinary team and very much embedded in it, providing spiritual and pastoral care, not only for patients and their families, but our staff colleagues as well.
“Chaplains are here for everyone to offer support to patients of all faiths and none, and a very high percentage of patients do avail of the chaplaincy service each year. According to the last figures that I have, across the South Eastern Trust as a whole, the team made 18,000 patient visits in the last year,” he said.
There are 10 members of the chaplaincy team at the Ulster. During his visit the Moderator spent time with Father Henry McCann, Roman Catholic chaplain, Claire Sellar, part-time PCI chaplain, and Vivienne Manley, palliative care and maternity chaplain with additional responsibility for those in other church and faith settings.
Mr Gamble also explained that the Hospital was also the base for the Trust’s Clinical Pastoral Education Teaching Centre, which trains chaplains for ministry in a hospital setting. As Lead Chaplain, he is also a supervisor/educator with the Association of Clinical Pastoral Education (Ireland). Upon successful completion, chaplains gain an international accredited qualification in healthcare chaplaincy.
“While many things have changed in the years since I trained to be a doctor, when it comes to ministering to people’s needs, just as Jesus always comes to us, when we invite Him to come, so the chaplains go when they are invited, bringing Christ’s love and compassion with them, and I commend them for it. All of us are flesh and bone, but more than that we are also spiritual beings, and I am pleased that the Trust acknowledges this in its holistic approach to patient care and the support it gives to its chaplains,” Dr Mawhinney said.
While presbytery tours are primarily pastoral visits to encourage the local church on the ground, and in the Presbytery of East Belfast there are 23 congregations. Engagements throughout the week also include upwards of 20-plus civic, church, community and cultural visits. After his tour of the hospital, Dr Mawhinney headed for Parliament Buildings and a courtesy call on the Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, Alex Maskey MLA. In the evening he met students for PCI’s ordained ministry, those still in training, and ministers in who pastor outside of a congregational setting.
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