A bright light in a dark year

18 December 2020 

On 21 December Jupiter and Saturn will appear conjoined to sky-watchers on Earth.

The effect will be to create what appears to be a particularly bright star.

If we are granted a clear sky, then this rare event should be particularly prominent on this occasion because the phenomenon will be occurring the closest it has to Earth since 1226.

This planetary conjugation has been proposed as one scientific explanation of the star referenced in Matthew’s Gospel which led the wise men from the east to worship Jesus.

Known as the Star of Bethlehem or the Christmas Star, it has since become a staple of both Renaissance artwork and supermarket Christmas cards.

No, you have not inadvertently tuned into The Sky at Night, nor Songs of Praise for that matter.

However, it does feel appropriate after the year we have all experienced and at a time when we read of the COVID-19 vaccine referred to as 'light at the end of the tunnel', that we note the symbolism of hope that this astronomical spectacle has represented for two millennia.

Amid the immense challenges we have all faced in 2020, the focus has by necessity been on the day to day. In time, we will look back on this year with a broader perspective.

We will see how the nation came together, while staying socially distant, to support our NHS whether it be through applause from the doorstep or a donation to Captain Tom’s incredible fundraiser for NHS Charities Together.

We have seen great adaptation in the way GPs work in an effort to keep us, our teams and our patients as safe as possible during the pandemic.

Yet, we also know that many of our members selflessly and with the utmost professionalism put themselves at risk of the virus to help their patients.

There is good reason behind why the country regards its health workers as heroes.

It can sometimes be difficult to find peace of mind away from COVID-19.

It is at the forefront of our career, we are concerned about family members catching the virus and even when removed from our immediate sphere, the rolling news coverage can seem a relentless reminder of the disease.

Sadly, too many of us have lost family, friends or colleagues to the virus.

Even our ability to be with them in their final hours has been limited by the protocols put in place to keep us safe.

At times this can feel at odds with our natural instinct to demonstrate compassion and love especially through human contact. Zoom is no substitute for a cwtch.

We know that the effects of COVID-19 will not simply disappear even after a successful vaccination programme and we pledge for the remainder of our term as your RCGP Cymru Wales Joint Chairs that we will support our members in every way we can.

As will have been the case with you, this time last year we were making plans for 2020. So too was the College.

Little did we understand the scale of what was about to hit us. We can only thank our Welsh Council and Faculty colleagues, and our RCGP Cymru Wales staff for their resilience, adaptability and commitment to supporting general practice.

Our profession has changed, your College has changed, and the world has changed.

What has not changed is our collective determination to provide patient care to the very best of our ability.

We hope that whatever your work schedules this Christmas you find time for yourself and your family. It makes us better at our job if we can find time to switch off and focus on our own wellbeing.

From the both of us, and all at RCGP Cymru Wales - thank you for all that you have done, we have never been prouder to be part of this profession. Diolch yn fawr.

Whether when looking at the Christmas Star you are inspired by science, by faith, by natural beauty or a combination of the three, it is worth considering the role that belief has played in comprehending its meaning for two thousand years.

In 2020, the people of Wales believe in you, and to them and us you are stars.

Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Dda / Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Post written by

Dr Mair Hopkin and Professor Peter Saul, Joint Chairs of RCGP Wales

Dr Mair Hopkin qualified in 1980 and was a partner at the Old School Surgery in Pontyclun until 2019. She has served as Chair and Provost of the South East Wales Faculty, as well as being Faculty Representative to RCGP’s UK Council.

Mair has a keen interest in child development and children's and women’s health. She introduced a Well Baby clinic before it became part of the GP contract, and has co-authored a book on child health development in Wales. She has also developed an interest in medical education. She is currently an Associate Dean in the Wales Deanery.

She married a farmer and lived on a working farm for three decades. She has three children, one of whom is a GP, and four grandchildren. She is a Welsh learner.

Professor Peter Saul qualified in 1985 and currently is a partner in Rhosllanerchrugog near Wrexham. He combines his work in the practice with his other professional passion of medical education, in the role of Associate Postgraduate Dean in the Wales Deanery. He also works one session a week running the Paediatric Allergy Clinic at Chester Hospital.

Peter has been an active member of his local RCGP faculty, serving as Chair and as Treasurer. He is also actively involved with the media, with a medical column in the local newspaper and as a regular radio contributor.

For fun he rides a bike (his favourite being his red Brompton), and when in need of a loftier perspective he flies his part owned light aircraft from Welshpool Airport. He lives on a smallholding and has three grown up children, one of whom is a junior doctor in London.

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