First major conference welcomed in 19 months

15.10.2021 | Church in Society, Conference Centre, COVID-19 Emergency


The Assembly Buildings Conference Centre in Belfast has hosted its first major conference since Covid restrictions on events and hospitality were eased by the Northern Ireland Executive. The event was jointly organised by a range of Clinical societies from the UK and Ireland who came together to hold a three-day congress, which ended today.

Opened by Northern Ireland’s Minister for Health, Robin Swann MLA, the joint Upper Gastrointestinal Surgical Congress used all the city centre venue’s facilities, including its meeting and breakout rooms, and the Assembly Hall, bringing together different professionals in one event for educational learning, sharing knowledge and inspiring a joint approach in healthcare for the first time.

Organised by AUGIS, the Association of Upper Gastrointestinal Surgery of Great Britain and Ireland, they were joined by the Pancreatic Society and NI, the GBHIBPA (Great Britain and Ireland Hepato Pancreato Biliary Association) and UKIEUS (UK & Ireland Endoscopic Ultrasound Society) on behalf of trainees and consultants, allied health professionals and clinical nurse specialists, from across these islands.

Like many events in recent times the Congress had to be postponed due to the Covid pandemic, but as event organiser, Professor Mark Taylor explained, it was important for the Congress to take place, “This is a first conference in which AUGIS, the Pancreatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland and the UKI Endoscopic Users have come together for a congress like this on all aspects of the upper Gastrointestinal Tract.”

The Northern Ireland director of the Royal College of Surgeons in England and president of GBIHPBA continued, “At this week’s congress we welcomed around 700 people. Of these nearly 400 came from across the UK and Ireland in person, while the rest joined us virtually, with the added benefit of senior Chinese medical involvement.

“Being able to use the full gambit of Assembly Buildings’ impressive facilities for our first hybrid event, including the superb technical support they offered, enabled us to not only welcome colleagues in person, we were also delighted to be able to welcome our friends and colleagues from the Peking Union Medical College in Beijing, Zongshan Hospital in Shanghai, and School of Computer Science and Technology, Xidian University, who joined us virtually for the inaugural joint UK and China meeting. Given the time difference, these meetings were held in the morning to facilitate our friends in China who were eight hours ahead of us.”

Looking to the future, Professor Taylor continued, “Given the success of this hybrid meeting we will certainly continue this on an annual basis and I have no doubt we will be back to the Assembly Buildings in the future,” he said.

Speaking about the event, Raymond Robinson, Head of Conferencing & Operations at Assembly Buildings, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s all-Ireland headquarters, said that seeing people come together in the building for a conference like this was a welcome sight.

“For many organisations and venues like our own, this has not been an easy 19 months. For us, this has been our first major conference since the restrictions were eased and we were happy to work with Professor Taylor and his colleagues until such a time that it became possible again.

Mr Robinson continued, “To hear the presentations take place, some live from China and London, and the general ‘hub-bub’ at the breaks, as delegates chatted over coffee and visited the various trade stands, was great to see and hear. It was also good for Belfast, as the vast majority of those attending were visitors to the city, making the most of our hotels and restaurants. Should AUGIS decide to, we would look forward to welcoming them back.”

Photos: (1) Northern Ireland Minister for Health, Robin Swann MLA, speaking at the opening of the joint Upper Gastrointestinal Surgical Congress (2) Congress organiser Professor Mark Taylor, Northern Ireland director of the Royal College of Surgeons in England and president of GBIHPBA  address delegates in the Assembly Hall  (3) one of the delegates at one of the many trade stands at the Assembly Buildings venue,

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