Hollywood, Donal (1959–2013), oncologist, was born 6 June 1959, at the Mourne Hospital, Kilkeel, Co. Down, one of five sons born to Patrick Hollywood, and accountant, and his wife Patricia (née Fearon), of Newry Road, Warrenpoint, Co. Down. He graduated from University College Dublin (UCD) a Bachelor of Medicine (MB) and Surgery (B.Ch.) in 1983, then undertook his internship and general training in the Mater Hospital, Dublin. From 1986 he specialised in oncology at St Luke's Hospital, Rathgar, Dublin. He continued his training in clinical and molecular oncology at the Hammersmith Hospital, London, and completed a Ph.D. in the research laboratories of the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, where he also gained an MD. In 1993 he moved to Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas, on a Fulbright Scholarship, and won the prestigious Baylor research prize before returning to Dublin in 1994 as a consultant radiation oncologist, based between St Luke's and St James's hospitals in the city.
Hollywood was visiting oncologist to Portlaoise Hospital when he was appointed regional director of cancer services with the Midland Health Board in May 1997. In that role he was tasked with reviewing cancer services in the region and issued his findings in March 1998. His recommendation to centralise services in Tullamore met with fierce resistance from political and medical interests in Mullingar and Portlaoise. After initial setbacks, the plan was eventually implemented thanks to sustained support from the National Cancer Forum and the government. (Brian Cowen, then minister for health, represented the Tullamore area.)
In July 2000 minister for health Micheál Martin, having argued publicly in favour of a small number of large, specialised centres of excellence to combat Ireland's inadequate cancer treatment apparatus and poor patient survival rates, appointed Hollywood to chair an expert working group examining radiation oncology services. The subsequent report The development of radiation oncology services in Ireland (2003), comprehensively assessed radiation oncology in the country and recommended drawing on a wide evidence base (including qualitative surveys of patient groups), and concentrating services in major centres so as to improve patient outcomes. Such an approach, politically and institutionally anathema to Irish health care at the time, would pool and develop clinical expertise and combine the three modalities of cancer treatment – surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy – in four urban centres.
In the wake of designating both Cork University Hospital and University College Hospital Galway as host centres of excellence, with two further centres to be located in Dublin, Hollywood was on the receiving end of severe criticism from political and medical lobbies in other parts of the country. Consultants from Waterford and Letterkenny hospitals questioned the evidentiary basis of the report's recommendations in submissions to the oireachtas committee on health. In response Hollywood argued that fewer, larger, treatment centres would help scale-up services and improve patient outcomes, stating 'It must be done. Anything else is indefensible' (The Irish Times, 10 Oct. 2003).
The 'Hollywood report' received widespread attention, and with unusually resolute political support overcame ongoing opposition from regional interests opposed to centralising cancer services, however inadequately existing cancer units served local populations. Seeking to address regional disparities in the availability and use of radiation therapy, the report provided the template for the national cancer strategy that emerged from 2006. Hollywood argued 'we cannot allow the local clinical or local political belief to unfairly shape the future of optimal development of cancer services in the country' (The Irish Times, 10 Nov. 2007).
He served as chair of radiotherapy, and national training coordinator, for the National Cancer Control Programme. While medical director (2002–03) of St Luke's Hospital, Rathgar, he also oversaw St James's Hospital becoming one of two centres in Dublin, serving the southern half of the city, with its St Luke's Radiation Oncology Centre housing a multidisciplinary cancer treatment service.
Hollywood co-founded the Prostate Research Group in Ireland in 2004, drawing together researchers from Trinity College Dublin (TCD) and UCD spread across four Dublin hospitals. Blood, urine and tissue samples were collected to better tailor treatment to individual cancer patients and to identify improved biomarkers for the disease. This ambitious cross-hospital and cross-university project was widely praised and served as a template for subsequent medical research projects.
He became Marie Curie professor of clinical oncology within the faculty of health sciences at TCD from 1994, leading the academic unit of clinical and molecular oncology. He integrated TCD's radiation oncology, medical oncology and palliative care units, with the school of radiation therapy, in order to enhance radiation oncology teaching and research. After forging close links with the US National Institutes of Health which aided the diagnosis and treatment of rare forms of cancer in Ireland, he was elected a fellow of TCD in 2009.
Hollywood won the Royal College of Physicians Ireland (RCPI) St Luke's Medal (2000) and was a leading figure in European Society of Radiotherapy and Oncology (ESTRO). He excelled at refining and translating hard-won research findings into tangible treatment strategies. Drawing together findings from biological, molecular and imaging research, he identified novel techniques to target and deliver radiation therapy. Hollywood was president-elect of ESTRO at the time of his death. An active board member (2002–07) of the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (RSCI) Faculty of Radiologists, where he served as chief examiner for many years, he was instrumental in upgrading professional training for radiation oncologists and served as its national training coordinator from 2003. He was also visiting consultant radiation oncologist to the Coombe Women and Infants University Hospital, Dublin.
His later research focused on developing biologically optimised radiation therapy, identifying and deploying novel targeted agents and precision radiation. Publishing widely, his research appeared in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, Diseases of the Oesophagus, British Journal of Cancer, The Lancet: Oncology and the Annals of Surgery. He also contributed to major international textbooks, including the Oxford textbook of oncology, and had a worldwide reputation in oncology research and clinical practice.
Hollywood approached political and bureaucratic obstacles with fairness and inclusivity, keenly explaining his opinions and decisions to his opponents. He once required a garda escort when leaving a vociferous public meeting in Portlaoise at which he had explained his recommendation to locate cancer services elsewhere (The Irish Times, 10 Nov. 2007). Widely praised for his humility alongside his political acumen and strong interpersonal skills, Hollywood strove to put patients at the centre of their care and was widely liked and respected by those he treated. Hollywood's caution in the face of concerted political resistance was often confused by his opponents as fearful indifference as he outmanoeuvred them. The 'Hollywood report' vastly improved the configuration and delivery of radiotherapy services in Ireland, which had been widely recognised as starkly substandard before 2000.
After a short battle with cancer, Hollywood died 10 May 2013 at St Luke's Hospital, Rathgar, Dublin, where he had chosen to be cared for. After his funeral at the Church of the Three Patrons, Rathgar, he was buried in Mount Jerome cemetery. Widely respected by his patients and colleagues, their esteem was manifest in the naming of a ward (2006) in St James's Hospital in his memory, with an accompanying painting of Hollywood by Cathy Henderson (qv). The TCD Donal Hollywood Prize for the best undergraduate thesis in radiation therapy was also established, as well as the Dublin GAA Professor Hollywood Memorial Cup, competed for by teams composed of cancer survivors. The European Cancer Patients' Bill of Rights, issued by the European Cancer Concord (of which he was a founding member) was dedicated to Hollywood's memory.