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Dr Margaret Du Feu

OBE

Consultant Psychiatrist, Ireland Dr Margaret Du Feu has worked tirelessly serving deaf people with mental health problems in England and in Ireland and was deservedly awarded an OBE in 2014. Margaret was born in Essex in 1950. At school, she studied Arts at A ‘level because she did not want to compete with her older brother, who was a scientist. She was offered a place at Cambridge to read English but chose to travel and broaden her horizons.

Her many jobs during her travels included a bus conductor and a cleaner, amongst many others. Finally, she embarked on her medical career by completing science A’levels and studying medicine at Cambridge and the Royal London Hospital, before qualifying in 1978. After her house jobs, Margaret spent time in various specialities including general practice, paediatrics, anaesthetics and surgery, although was put off surgery by the then 140-hour week. She then did six months of psychiatry in 1984 after her daughter was born and her Consultant in Worcester, Dr George Miner, inspired Margaret to decide on this as her chosen career. She continued her psychiatry training in Birmingham. By now, Margaret’s personal battle with deafness had begun. She started losing her hearing while at medical school and realised that she couldn’t hear very well through the stethoscope. Eventually, she was completely deaf from cochlear osteosclerosis. Determined to continue normally, she had hearing aids and an amplifying stethoscope and finally a cochlear implant in 1999. Despite further personal adversity, this doctor was undeterred. Margaret’s artist husband had schizophrenia and several breakdowns. Unable to persuade psychiatrists to help her husband and his persecutory delusions, Margaret lost him when their daughter was only six years old. “I will always feel that I could have done more while knowing that the odds against us were just too great,” she says. “I have learnt to listen to desperate relatives, as I have been one myself.” Meanwhile, the UK’s third service for Mental Health for deaf people was being set up in Birmingham, and Margaret, being deaf herself, was asked to work there. The first thing she did was learn to sign. From 1991 to 2005, Margaret worked with a dedicated deaf and hearing team to cover a vast area extending from the Midlands to Cornwall and Lincolnshire. Inspired by the work of Dr John Denmark who pioneered Mental Health and Deafness

(MHD) Services in the UK from the 1960s, Margaret worked endless hours developing a much-needed service. She travelled extensively caring for this much-neglected population with very little money available, only ten beds for almost one-third of the country while raising a young daughter and practically living at motorway service stations. Margaret trained deaf staff as nursing assistants, and eventually, the service went up to twelve beds; she was still the only consultant, however. It became apparent that a similar service was needed in Northern Ireland and in 2003 Margaret was seconded to spend two days a week to develop this. After two years, she moved to Belfast to develop a further MHD service in the Republic of Ireland (ROI). Margaret retired from the NHS in 2010 but continues to work part-time in the ROI. In 2013, Margaret won the Joseph Maitland Robinson Award from Signature, a UK charity focused on improving access for deaf and deafblind people. The award recognised her outstanding contribution to improving the everyday experiences of deaf and deafblind people with mental illness. This demonstrated that she had the trust and respect of the very population that she serves: the deaf community. “I could never ask for more than that,” she says. In 2014, she was Chair of the Scientific Committee of the World Congress on Mental Health and Deafness in Belfast and was awarded her OBE. With Dr Cathy Chovaz, a deaf child psychologist in Canada, Margaret authored Mental Health and Deafness, published by Oxford University Press. Despite retirement, she continues to work and is employed by a voluntary organisation, Deafhear.ie and holds a clinic to a catchment area of five million people. * Favourite Film: Twelve Angry Men * Three objects Margaret cannot live without: A cup of coffee, A book, My cat

Margaret’s advice to junior doctors is “Don’t be afraid to take the time to listen carefully; to admit you don’t know; to admit a mistake; or to ask for help. If you are afraid of anything, walk calmly towards it.”

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Medical Woman | Spring 2017

Medical Woman – Magazine Centenary Issue, April 2017  

The magazine for the Medical Women’s Federation (MWF), the largest and most influential body of women doctors in the UK which aims to promot...