Michael Hyland – An Appreciation

A pioneer of geriatric medicine in Ireland

Michael Hyland in his beloved Ballycotton. Photograph: Prof Cillian Twomey

Michael Hyland in his beloved Ballycotton. Photograph: Prof Cillian Twomey

 

Born in Pudsey in Yorkshire on June 17th, 1934, where his Cork-born father was a general practitioner, Michael Hyland, a pioneer of geriatric medicine in Ireland, who died on February 7th, 2018, was proud of his Yorkshire roots. His childhood in Yorkshire was interrupted by the second World War, which was spent with his relatives in Cork, with holidays in Ballycotton, a place that always remained close to his heart. The family went back to Yorkshire in 1944, only to return to live permanently in Cork in 1948, where he and his siblings completed their school years. He went to UCC, qualifying in medicine in 1957.

Michael received most of his postgraduate geriatric training in London in the 1960s. He was fortunate in having outstanding and highly respected figures as mentors, including geriatricians Dr Jimmy Williams at the West Middlesex Hospital and Prof Gordon Mills at the Central Middlesex Hospital. It was in this latter hospital that he met his wife Rosaleen; they married in 1969.

When appointed as consultant geriatrician at St Finbarr’s Hospital in Cork in 1969, Michael was only the second specialist geriatrician in the Republic of Ireland, the other being Dr Jack Flanagan in St James’s Hospital, Dublin. With characteristic energy, efficiency and geniality, Michael set up the new specialist service in Cork, supported by Prof Denis O’Sullivan. Within seven years, Michael had established a thriving department, encompassing all the elements of a thoroughly modern geriatric medicine service, including Ireland’s very first purpose-built rehabilitation unit for older people, which opened in 1976. The acute geriatric medicine unit transferred to the new Cork Regional Hospital when it opened in 1978 and the department advanced steadily, ably assisted by Michael’s first specialist colleague, Cillian Twomey, appointed in 1979.

Over the following two decades until his retirement from clinical practice, Michael was at the forefront of older-person service development, locally and nationally. This was during a time of contraction of hospital services nationally in the midst of a struggling Irish economy for most of those years. He served on the Working Party on Services for the Elderly from 1987-8, which produced the highly influential The Years Ahead report. This report had a major influence on the delivery of hospital and community medical and social services for older people. The following decade saw the establishment of specialist departments of geriatric medicine in virtually all of the nation’s public hospitals. In 1978 the country was served by five geriatricians; the number today exceeds 100, many of whom were attracted to the specialty by Michael’s qualities of service, clinical teaching and his selfless commitment to patients.

Michael received many honours in recognition of his outstanding contributions to geriatric medicine, including the British Geriatric Society’s presidential medal in 1998, an honorary doctorate from UCC in 2008 and the Irish Gerontological Society presidential medal in 2012. He served as president of the Irish Gerontological Society from 1994 to 1998. He played a key role in Prosper, the first large-scale clinical drug trial undertaken specifically in older people by researchers in Leiden, Glasgow and UCC. The trial results were published in the Lancet in 2002 and showed that statin drugs were just as beneficial in older people as younger people for prevention of heart disease.

Following his retirement in 1998 until 2012, Michael served as chairman of the UCC-affiliated hospitals’ clinical research ethics committee.

Among his few concessions to leisure were his love of opera and classical music, hill-walking, gardening and visits to his beloved Ballycotton.

In the midst of his busy professional life, Michael remained a highly committed family man.

Michael’s final illness brought him back to the department he had established in St Finbarr’s , where he was lovingly nursed during his final year.

He is survived by his wife Rosaleen, daughters Rachel and Lucy, son Peter, brother John and sisters Sheila and Bridget. He was predeceased by his daughter Emma.