Leading obstetrics and gynaecology experts have honoured SGUL’s Professor Sir Sabaratnam Arulkumaran on his retirement after almost 40 years at the forefront of O&G clinical practice and 28 years in academia. Sir Arul’s retirement was marked by a valedictory scientific meeting hosted at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

Colleagues from St George’s – both the university and the hospital – and national and international obstetrics and gynaecology experts came together for the event last month, where they discussed the latest advances in the field.

Sir Arul is internationally renowned for his work advancing women’s health and maternity care. He has been head of obstetrics and gynaecology at St George’s, University of London, where he has led academic research and teaching, and a clinician at St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust since 2001. Prior to this he held posts at a number of high-profile institutions including the National University of Singapore and the University of Nottingham.

Despite now being officially retired, Sir Arul is as busy as ever and is still working from his office at St George’s, where he has been appointed emeritus professor. In this role he hopes to offer his services as a tutor to students, as well as being an examiner.

He will also be kept busy with his presidency of the International Federation of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (FIGO), which he took up last October and will hold until 2015. He is the second Briton after 45 years to head the global body dedicated to saving and improving the lives of women and newborns. This role will involve travelling the globe promoting projects to improve the health of pregnant women.

Sir Arul is also president elect of the British Medical Association, and will take over in June from SGUL’s own Professor the Baroness Sheila Hollins. These roles, he said, are “a great honour” and reflect the recognition given to St George’s as a premier institution.

In addition, he recently served as the chair of the investigation team to improve safety on the request of the Irish Health Service Executive, following a maternal death.

With so much work still underway, there has not been much time to sit back and reflect on his achievements, but Sir Arul does know what he is most proud of so far.

“There have been a couple of things that have stood out for me in my career. When I first came to St George’s I was asked to reorganise the maternity services at Northwick Park Hospital, which was put under special measures. There had been 10 maternal deaths in three years so that was a major challenge. We managed to make some major improvements and turn it around, and that was immensely satisfying.”

Sir Arul also cites the development of a clinical dashboard – designed to equip clinicians with relevant and timely information they need to inform decisions to improve patient care – as another major achievement. This was developed at Northwick Park hospital, but has since been adopted by clinical departments across the country, including in other disciplines.

When Sir Arul came to St George’s in 2001 his department had 3,500 deliveries a year. Now there are 5,400. Back then the department had eight clinicians and now there are 24. It also now has two professors in Basky Thilaganathan and Isaac Manyonda, and two readers in Julene Carvalho and Aris Papageorghiou. And it runs a number of undergraduate and postgraduate training programmes.

“In general, I’m very proud of being able to be a catalyst to promote development and for individual clinicians to maximise their potential, and in becoming leaders, excellent clinicians teachers and researchers,” said Sir Arul.

“It’s important to give people opportunities, but then it’s up to them how they take them. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed to have worked with them and I am grateful to them for projecting a positive image for St George’s nationally and internationally.”

Over the last two years he has become less hands on with his department, happy to take a back seat and allow his senior staff to take over more responsibilities.

“I thought it was important for them to be able to do what they want to do without their leadership being curtailed. I’ll continue to be available for them if they need anything, but the department is certainly in good hands.”

Sir Arul’s commitment to developing researchers and clinicians has led the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists to launch a new fellowship in building leaders in his name. It is hoped that one fellow will be appointed annually.

With more time now to commit to his FIGO role, one country Sir Arul intends to continue channeling his expertise and knowledge towards assisting is his native Sri Lanka.

“I visit Sri Lanka a couple of times a year, and I’ve talked with the president and the minister for health about women’s health issues. Sri Lanka has one of the lowest maternal death rates in south Asia, which I’m very proud of. They’ve spent money on new hospitals and clinics to continuously improve on their performance.”

With colleagues and collaborators honouring his illustrious career, Sir Arul wanted to thank the midwifery, administrative and O&G colleagues at St George’s who have provided him with support, in particular Professor Peter Kopelman, Professor Dafydd Walters and Professor Paul Jones.

“They’ve been really, really helpful, and have been very supportive in allowing me to do everything I’ve wanted to.

“I’d like to express my sincere gratitude to people here at SGUL and the trust chief executives and administrative staff for encouraging me and providing me with all the opportunities that have allowed me to blossom.”