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The Royal College of Psychiatrists Improving the lives of people with mental illness

The President's Blog

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15/09/2017 11:53:13

Help us to help you on the front line

It’s already more than two months since I took up the post of President. It has been a massively steep learning curve.

Having spent five years as Dean I thought that I knew the College, but it turns out there was a lot going on that I wasn’t aware of.  

I received a challenge earlier this week sent from the psychiatrist husband of a College committee member: “The College does nothing for jobbing psychiatrists”.

Having been a jobbing psychiatrist myself for over 30 years, I know why he said that.


On the front line

Out there on the front line it’s hard to know what the College is up to and all you see is resources dwindling away and demands and bureaucracy constantly increasing.

From my position now I can see exactly what the College is doing and how great the influence is.

Simon Wessely achieved a huge amount as President and psychiatry has been promised significantly more resources over the next few years.

What I have to do is to make sure those pledges are kept and that money does actually reach the services on the ground.

It was good to find out that in Leeds where I work new money for perinatal and liaison services has got through as promised. 

Something that has impressed me is the great esteem in which the College is held.

As its representative people in positions of power are keen to meet me and (apparently) willing to listen to what I have to say and be guided by it.

I now know that the College does have a major influence at a national level. This makes it really important that as many members as possible are directly involved.


How you can get involved

Some 1,880 of you already have some type of a role within the College and I hope this will grow. Please watch Posts for Members on the website.

We are currently advertising a number of interesting positions including Chairs of two Specialty Advisory Committees, General Adult and Child and Adolescent which oversee training in these specialities.

Involvement with training and trainees is fantastically rewarding, please consider applying.

You will be aware that the Government has announced that the Mental Health Act, covering England and Wales, will be reviewed in some way. This is as a result of the steadily rising number of detentions and the increased likelihood of being detained if you are black.

These aren’t issues that can be ignored and I’m pleased that they won’t be. It’s an area where I really do need to know what you are thinking and how to represent you so we are running a survey.

Members in England and Wales will have had a recent reminder email from me about this, please do try to complete it, I promise it only takes a few minutes. I also promise I won’t be constantly bombarding you with annoying surveys, it’s just that this is particularly important.


Our new campaign Choose Psychiatry

The final way in which I am asking for your help and involvement is with our recruitment campaign.

Recruitment has a been a problem for years now with unfilled core training posts each application round (although I’m hearing that the quality is improving if not the quantity). We are targeting doctors using social media so please share as much as possible.

We hope the campaign will help but what will make the biggest impact is you acting as role models.

Please forget the tedious computerised assessments and forms that you have to complete and concentrate on what you love about psychiatry.

Make sure that the medical students and Foundation doctors with you see how incredibly interesting the conditions that we deal with are, and what a huge difference we can make to people’s lives if we chose psychiatry as a career.

You can read more about the campaign in our article in this month’s eNewsletter, which also explains how you can support Choose Psychiatry.

12/07/2017 09:23:29

Tears, cheers and priorities for the next 3 years

Tears, cheers and priorities for the next three years

On 28 June in the Conference Centre in Edinburgh I became the 16th President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

Since the election result in January I have been preparing to take up this role.

I will be leaving my full-time clinical post as an old age psychiatrist but will still work two days a week for Leeds and York Partnership Foundation trust.

I am really grateful for the Trust’s support which means I’ll continue to see patients which will hopefully keep me anchored to reality.


A tribute to my predecessor

Starting as President meant sadly saying goodbye to Simon.

His Presidency has been incredibly successful. He has bought huge amounts of energy, enthusiasm, wisdom and sheer hard work to the role.

He has visited every medical school in the UK and inspired a whole generation of medical students.  He has developed relationships with politicians and others in key positions and has been able to directly influence them.

He has improved the image of psychiatry in the media beyond all expectations and the College is now a leading voice in issues around Mental Health.  All this has been done apparently effortlessly and with wit and humour.

Luckily, I can’t imagine that Simon will stop the work that he is so passionate about. I am sure he will continue to champion our cause and to do all he can to support the College, and I’m counting on his help as I step into the role.


Congress: the best yet

I was in Edinburgh for the International Congress.  This has gone from strength to strength and this year’s meeting was the best yet.

My favourite session consisted of two keynote talks. The fist was from Karl Deisseroth, an American Psychiatrist, who is researching at the cutting edge of neuroscience and who has developed new techniques for studying neural circuit function.

There is no doubt that his work is laying the foundation for a proper understanding of the physical basis of mental disorders.  He is also helping us with the Gatsby Wellcome Neuroscience project which is modernising the neuroscience that we teach our trainees.

Karl’s talk was followed by one from a patient who developed a very severe postnatal illness.  Her description of her illness, the effect on her children and her relationship with the psychiatrist who eventually managed to get her well was incredibly moving. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

These two talks perfectly illustrate why we are so lucky to be psychiatrists.

The juxtaposition of the most up to date science with the moving and positive human story shows what makes psychiatry a unique and privileged career.

The whole four days of congress were filled with high quality and varied talks and sessions.  There were 2,500 delegates and I caught up with people I haven’t seen since I was a trainee.

If you weren’t fortunate enough to get to Congress, you can catch up with things – see our article Catch up with Congress.

We also launched the new College magazine RCPsych Insight with the (slightly unflattering) cartoon of myself and Simon on the front.

This is a new venture, the brainchild of our CEO Paul Rees, and we are going to trial it for a year.

Let us know what you think and if there are any particular articles you would like to see in it.


My priorities

So now I have started what am I going to do? The first thing will be to start work on my manifesto promises.

These included holding the Government to account on funding, promotion of integrated care, recruitment, retention and trainee support.

That is a massive agenda but I will do my best. I also know from my time as Dean what a huge amount of support there will be from Members and College Staff.

I am going to make it clearer how members can get involved in College roles and there will be more opportunities so please watch the posts for members area of the website. 

I know how busy everyone is but College work allows a bit of respite from the pressure of clinical work and a chance to influence patient care in a different way. I can only achieve what I want to with your help.

I also plan to visit as many places as I can to meet College members and find out what you feel the College should be doing.

I’ll be at lots of College meetings and conferences and will happily stay anywhere there is a Premier Inn so please invite me to your events. I look forward to seeing as many of you as possible in the coming months.

Professor Wendy Burn









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Professor Sir Simon Wessely


Professor Wendy Burn FRCPsych


Professor Wendy Burn became a consultant old age psychiatrist in Leeds in 1990 and now works fulltime in a community post. Her main clinical interest is dementia.

She has held a regional leadership role in this area from 2011 and was co-clinical Lead for dementia for Yorkshire and the Humber Strategic Clinical Network between 2013 and 2016.