Retiring rheumatologist leaves lasting legacy at the West Suffolk

Dr David O’Reilly

Dr David O’Reilly, consultant rheumatologist, has retired from the West Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust after 26 years of service. He leaves behind a thriving rheumatology department that he was instrumental in developing. 

After graduating in medicine from Jesus College, Cambridge in 1980, David trained in general medicine in Manchester and Nottingham, before changing to general practice. He then joined the obstetrics department at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust.

“I must have delivered 100 babies in that time at least,” he said.

David then worked as a GP for a year in Manchester, before starting rheumatology training rotation there. “It was actually my wife who spotted the rheumatology post at the West Suffolk, said it would suit me, and the rest is history!”

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David and his wife, Jane, have been married since 1980, and have four children together. He joined the West Suffolk Hospital in 1993 as a consultant physician and rheumatologist, where he has been caring for patients ever since. He is also a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians and was named a ‘Distinguished Member’ of the British Society of Rheumatology in 2016.

So, how did David set about creating a brand new department from scratch?

He said: “It was tough to begin with, but I surrounded myself with the right people, who were like-minded, innovative and patient-focused. We all worked together to create a happy, healthy working atmosphere. Everyone, whatever role, be it doctor, nurse, clinical and non-clinical, contributes their ideas so our whole department is unified and knows what the goals are.

“I’ve introduced a lot of changes over the years, as we are always keeping up to date with new research and the best treatments. If I leave a legacy, I hope it’s that everyone’s opinion counts and that good teamwork makes for an efficient department.”

Rheumatologists treat a wide remit of patients with inflammatory joint disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, metabolic bone disorders such as osteoporosis, connective tissues diseases such as systemic lupus erythematosus, and soft tissues rheumatism such as tennis elbow. Other conditions covered include gout, nerve entrapment such as sciatica, and back pain.

Dr O’Reilly with a patient

The West Suffolk Hospital’s rheumatology department has grown to be a well-oiled machine, with some of the shortest waiting times in East Anglia for GP referrals. This is particularly important as rapid diagnosis and early treatment has been shown to improve the outcome of treating inflammatory joint diseases, and it has delivered over 40,000 appointments since May 2016.

From April to June 2019, 100% of patients who filled in a patient experience survey said staff were professional, approachable and friendly, and felt that they were as involved as they wanted to be in decisions about their care. More than 96% of these patients also said they would recommend the rheumatology service to friends and family if they needed similar care or treatment.

Some of the comments the department has recently received from patients include: “best treatment I’ve ever had in a hospital”, “a first-class service”, and “friendly, caring staff who gave me time and treated me as an individual.”

David said: “I feel privileged to have been a consultant at such an excellent hospital, that is truly supported by the community in which it is situated. I have also always been supported along the way by an amazing, hard-working team, and by the hospital’s executive team. As a consultant, you are a person of trust, and that has been a real privilege.” 

Looking ahead to retirement, David continued: “I’m really looking forward to it, but am also apprehensive as it is going to be a big lifestyle change. It will also be a learning curve, as I’m soon to become a grandad for the first time, to two new grandchildren! So I’ll definitely be keeping busy.”

To mark his retirement, David chose to raise a collection for the charity Arthritis Research UK, and has raised more than £500 to date.