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Professor Varma has continued to work tirelessly in raising
awareness of cardiac care issues both within the healthcare
sector and to a broader public. He is involved with many
learned bodies promulgating guidelines, protocols and
treatment strategies for heart disease at a national and
international level and has advised Departments of Health in
the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland on these issues.
Throughout his career, Professor Varma has been a
consistent proponent of cross border cooperation. The
most recent example of such co-operation has been a
joint initiative that sees RCSI medical students undertaking
high quality experiential learning, alongside students from
Queen's University, in a state-of-the-art clinical setting in
the South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen under the
tutelage of a highly experienced and dedicated multi-
disciplinary team.
Professor Varma sees this as a very positive initiative: "The
exchange of ideas among medical students is extremely
beneficial for patient care and medical practice on both
sides of the border. The sharing of different perspectives
encourages fresh approaches to common challenges and
helps inspire new ideas.
"There is plenty of scope for further collaboration, too. I
work with the Western Trust (which includes Altnagelvin
Area Hospital, Derry) one of five health and social care trusts
which provide health and social services across Northern
Ireland, and we are currently exploring further opportunities
for cross border cooperation with the HSE."
Consistent with his commitment to an all-island approach
to healthcare, Professor Varma has long been a committed
member of the Irish Cardiac Society, itself an all-island
body. A Past President of the Society, he has also held the
positions of Treasurer and Secretary, and served on the
Council for over 10 years.
He was responsible for establishing an all-island satellite
meeting, the Annual Cardiology Update in 1984 in
Enniskillen. "It was a challenge to set up at the time,
but we secured the participation of key expert speakers
such as Professor John Horgan, which added to the
authoritativeness and appeal of the event. Of course, our
colleagues from outside Northern Ireland were not used to
checkpoints but we liaised closely with both the police and
the army and thanks to a positive approach from all sides,
that inaugural meeting was successful and it subsequently
went on to become an annual event."
Today, as an all-day meeting that attracts 150-strong
attendances, it is now an established part of the cardiac
calendar. In 2014, the event celebrated its 30th anniversary
and was jointly opened by the current President of the
Society, Dr Donal Murray and Professor Varma.
The support the event receives from the Irish Cardiac
Society and the Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke
Association, indicates the significance of a unique health
and scientific conference. As Professor Varma puts it: "The
meeting reflects the commitment of medical professionals
throughout the island to providing cardiology services
comparable to the best internationally."
The decision to set up the South West Acute Hospital
had its origins in a campaign initiated by Professor Varma
in 1998. He recalls: "In the mid to late nineties, there
were four small hospitals located west of the Bann and,
individually, they just didn't have the levels of patient
throughput that would support the maintenance of
clinical skills."
Consultants in the local hospitals, led by Professor Varma,
proposed the idea of one large hospital that would
incorporate all the skills required of a large-scale district
hospital. "We were aware that the acute services review
of health services across Northern Ireland was going to
take place, and we felt that it would be appropriate for
us, who work at the coalface, to make recommendations
to the Department of Health and the Western Board as
to what would be appropriate in the south west of the
Initial discussions about a new facility began in 1998.
The Hayes Review was commissioned in 2000. Taking
on board the consultants' recommendations, the review
panel proposed a new hospital to be developed and built
in Enniskillen.
"It took some time to come to fruition, but the new
South West Acute Hospital opened in Enniskillen in
2012. It is one of the most modern healthcare facilities
in Europe, represents an investment of 340m and has
made an enhanced level of patient care available to the
people of the region."
Professor Varma is an enthusiastic supporter of cultural
life in Northern Ireland, has been a member of the
BBC Trust's Audience Council for Northern Ireland, and
is a member of the Fermanagh District Council Arts
Committee. He has always been interested in classical
music and developed a particular interest in opera
when he was hospitalised with a detached retina and
had to endure a period of forced inactivity. "This gave
me the opportunity to listen to a lot of radio especially
opera and I was hooked."