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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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16/01/2018 16:24:48

New year, and an even more resolute RCPsych

Each year we see January as a fresh start and make resolutions to improve ourselves. These usually include taking more exercise and eating less in an attempt to undo the damage done by Christmas.

This year please remember your mental health as well as your physical. Psychiatry can be stressful so look after yourself and be sure that you set aside some time for relaxation. I can hear those who know me sniggering but I’m determined to set a good example (also, for the record, Twitter isn’t work).

My resolutions for 2018 include working on three major areas with the College:

  • Recruitment

  • retention

  • the Mental Health Act 1983 Review.

Huge amounts of energy already go into recruitment. I’m delighted to say that we have had the highest number of applicants ever for core training this year, but we can’t afford to rest on our laurels and will keep on with the #ChoosePsychiatry campaign.

We need to make sure that as many medical students and Foundation doctors experience Psychiatry as possible so that they see what a great career it is.


Training, retaining

While we are busy telling the outside world how interesting it is to train as a psychiatrist, we also need to work to make sure that trainees, specialty and associate specialist (SAS) doctors and consultants stay in the profession.

The College is holding a workshop with Health Education England at the end of the month to firm up arrangements for the implementation of the workforce plan that came out last summer.

When I speak to trainees and members in different parts of the UK the same themes come through repeatedly.

Trainees want to be treated with consideration. This means thought being given to where they live when placements are allocated, access to food and rest when on call and ability to take leave for important events when they give reasonable notice. Or in other words, to be supported and valued (PDF) as the Psychiatric Trainees’ Committee has set out.

Fortunately, our trainees already report being treated better than most specialities, via the GMC national training survey, but there is still room for improvement.

Consultants and SAS doctors describe a lack of resources but also a blame culture and excessive bureaucracy. These issues must be tackled to improve morale and increase retention.


Mental Health Act review

The College is about to submit evidence for the review of the Mental Health Act 1983. This will feed into the interim report of the review, expected to be published in spring this year, and will be posted on our website soon if you want to read it.

The whole of the morning of the January Council meeting was devoted to discussing key areas relating to the review.

Some very useful points were made and we came to a consensus. The College will be working closely with the review team and you can continue to feed in your opinions:

We will keep you informed as the Review progresses.

All of us at the College wish you a very Happy New Year.

15/12/2017 11:40:15

Cheer at the end of the year

There have been some worrying moments in the past month when it looked as if the extra money for mental health was hanging in the balance.

But, I’m pleased to say, we campaigned hard openly on social media and behind the scenes, and fortunately Simon Stevens confirmed his commitment to our funding.

As I go about the UK I am hearing of places where new money is helping, particularly in Perinatal and Liaison services.

I am also aware of concerns that our workforce is moving into these new services and away from our community teams and the wards which can’t do without them. We will be watching this carefully.


Success in Wales

A highlight of the month was a trip to Swansea to speak at the RCPsych in Wales and the Welsh Psychiatric Society joint meeting.

Even the people on the ticket gates at the station were friendly, the sun shone brightly (apparently it always does in Swansea), I tasted deep fried cockles for the first time and the academic content was varied and interesting.  I will definitely be returning.


Good news and a big thank you

I’m not allowed to share the numbers with you but there is some exceptionally good news about how many applications we have had to core training this year. 

Of course, there is a long way to go before we know how many will actually join us next August but things are looking hopeful.

A big thanks to everyone who helped with the Choose Psychiatry campaign this year.

The College recruitment campaign will only work if Psychiatrists on the frontline show medical students and Foundation Doctors what a fantastic job we have, despite the struggle with lack of resources – many of you volunteered your time to help us this year and we will need more of the same in 2018. 

There was also an overwhelming response to our pilot of CAMHS run-through training. Again, I can’t give you the numbers but it makes getting a surgical post look easy...


Gathering momentum

The review of the Mental Health Act is gathering momentum and they have put out a call for evidence.

We will use the Membership survey results to inform our response and will devote the whole of the morning of the January Council meeting to discussing this.

Two particular areas where we need to clarify our position are on whether we believe the Act should be based primarily on Capacity or on Risk, and the use of CTOs.

You can feed in your opinions directly using the email address or via your Faculty and Divisional reps on Council.


Season’s greetings

As always at this time of year Christmas is approaching fast and will be here before we know it.

I’m very grateful to all those who will be working over the holiday to keep our services going, I hope that you get some time to relax with your families.

From all of us at the College we wish you a very Happy Christmas and all the best for 2018.


17/11/2017 13:52:54

Awarding times, rewarding times

I recently attended my first College Awards evening as President, along with some 300 guests working in psychiatry. The evening, hosted by musician, journalist and Church of England priest columnist and presenter, The Reverend Richard Coles, was a lovely celebration of success which is something we don’t do enough of.

An Honorary Fellowship was presented to Alastair Campbell the political strategist, writer and dedicated mental health campaigner.

Alastair later presented Rob Poole with a Lifetime Achievement Award and I was honoured to be able to interview Rob. Most of you will be aware of his huge contribution to social psychiatry but you may not know, as I uncovered on the night, that he is a talented musician and blogger.

See the full list of the award winners.


Re-visiting the past, looking to the future

The last few weeks have been busy traveling to various conferences and meetings.

I made my third visit to Bournemouth since I started as President to attend the Faculty of Rehabilitation & Social Psychiatry Annual Conference.

This time I actually managed to leave the hotel and walk by the sea. I was there to talk about my priorities and get feedback on them, I also picked up a new Twitter hashtag #wendysgotaplan. Not trending yet but give me time…..

I stepped into the past to make a trip back to Southampton Medical School where I trained, invited by David Baldwin who heads up their Mental Health Group.

I heard from a number of enthusiastic young researchers in his department where they are doing some really interesting work. 

I gave a talk in a lecture theatre where I spent many (often boring) hours as a student. The only change was the addition of a ramp and a wheelchair space.  The student bar had gone but the foyer of the hospital had been transformed with a Costa and a Marks and Spencer.


Mental Health Act: survey findings

The review of the Mental Health Act in England and Wales, triggered by the steadily rising number of detentions and the fact that you are more likely to be detained if you are from certain ethnic groups, is now underway, led by Simon Wessely.

You will remember that I asked members in England and Wales to complete a survey. Thanks to those who took part, we had a total of 1,951 responses, 15.0% of all members, from across England and Wales.

The majority of respondents believe that it should be possible to admit people to hospital against their wishes where they have mental capacity but pose a risk to themselves or others.

 There was also a majority view that discharging people to the community with conditions on their treatment is an important part of keeping people safe and well in some circumstances.

Since our survey closed, the terms of the review of the Mental Health Act have been set out. We are working with the review to ensure it is fully evidence-based and that the expertise and experience of psychiatrists is fully considered during the review. We will be producing a full report of the findings from our member survey to submit to the review and to share with members.

We have also set up an email address ( in order for all members to have the opportunity to give their thoughts on the areas which the review will cover and to raise other concerns and areas which the review should consider.

As the work of the review progresses I am really keen to make sure that you are kept up to date and that the College continues to listen to your views and represent them  


Around the devolved nations

It’s not only England and Wales that are looking at this area. In Scotland, the Mental Welfare Commission has produced guidance, the Rights in Mind Pathway, on the use of the Mental Health legislation, which was supported by the College.

RCPsych in Scotland continues to involve itself with reviews and reforms of mental health legislation and implementation of the new Mental Health Strategy through representation on groups and its participation in the Scottish Mental Health Partnership.

In Northern Ireland, the Mental Capacity Act (N.I.) 2016 is expected to go live in 2020. This is extremely interesting and will be watched by the rest of the world with great attention.

The RCPsych in Northern Ireland are working closely with the Department of Health and others in the development of the Code of Practice which will accompany the Act.

RCPsych in Northern Ireland have been hosting workshops to engage members and colleagues from other disciplines and will be holding a conference on 22 March 2018 which I am very excited about. 

Details will become available on our Northern Ireland Conferences and events page. The conference will be preceded the evening before by the first ever President’s Lecture outside London which will be delivered by Sue Bailey.


Recruiting trainees

Recruitment for core training next year is now open.

We are really hoping that the recruitment campaign we have been running will make a difference but please do all you can to help by spreading the word about how great and how rewarding a career in Psychiatry is.


Read the November eNewsletter


18/10/2017 11:01:45

Powerful speeches and a royal appointment

Royal Appointment

Party time

I have now completed my first three months as President and am well into my fourth. I have chaired two of the 12 council meetings that will happen during my term of office. And best of all I’m finally enjoying it.

I had a crash course in politics by attending three Party conferences: Liberal Democrats, Conservatives and Labour.

I had to learn to digest briefing documents with College positions and key messages on a wide variety of issues.

I went to a huge number of “round tables” where I sat at what were definitely rectangular tables and desperately tried to get a chance to say my piece.

I even gave a speech at a fringe health event at the Conservative conference.


Powerful and moving

We hosted a roundtable event on crisis care in mental health services, with a focus on the Government’s plans for reforming the Mental Health Act, at both the Labour and Conservative conferences.

One of the members of our service users’ forum spoke very powerfully and movingly of what it is like to be detained.

She described her feelings about the loss of dignity and control and how difficult it is to be a patient on wards where everyone is acutely and severely unwell. We had wide ranging discussions about what might need to change.


Review of the Mental Health Act

At the Conservative conference, the Prime Minister announced the setting up of a review of the Mental Health Act, chaired by Professor Sir Simon Wessely.

He will produce an interim report in early 2018 and develop a final report containing detailed recommendations, by Autumn 2018.

We will be liaising closely with him as he starts work on what will be a challenging project. We are currently analysing the membership survey on the MHA.

One of the clear findings is that Members believe the rising rate of detention is due to reduction in community resources that make it hard to offer an alternative.

Read further information on the review on the government’s website.


Highest trainee pass rate

At the end of September, the results came out for the MRCPsych CASC Examination. The overall pass rate was 65.6% with a trainee pass rate of 81.1%.

This is the highest rate since the exam began.

The statistics have been looked at very carefully and it’s clear that those taking the exam are now of a higher standard. This is excellent news and I look forward to meeting them at a New Members Ceremony.


Buckingham Palace, please!

The highlight of my role so far was my trip to Buckingham Palace for an evening event to celebrate World Mental Health Day, accompanied by Adrian James, Kate Lovett and Kate Milward, ex-chair of the PTC.

The first thrill of the evening was saying “Buckingham Palace please” to the cab driver. The second was walking through the gates and into the Palace grounds.

I was treated as a VIP, as was Professor Dame Sue Bailey who is a past President of the College. A small group of us were taken to the beautiful White Drawing Room where William, Kate and Harry spoke to us all individually.

They were keen to find out if I thought their championship of mental health was making a difference and I reassured them that it was. Harry in particular would like to work more with the College in the future.

I then joined the rest of the guests. It was a fun evening. People who work in our field are often slightly out of the ordinary and almost always interesting. Everyone there had heard of the College and was complimentary about what we do.


Choose psychiatry

Our Choose Psychiatry recruitment campaign continues, I hope you have noticed it and seen the videos which are on our website.

Thanks to all those who have recorded a one minute message about why they love their job and posted it on twitter with the hashtag #ChoosePsychiatry.

Recruitment for 2018 opens soon and I really hope we improve our numbers this time.

Please do all you can to encourage Medical Student and Foundation Doctors and show them what a great job we have and the huge difference psychiatrists make to people’s lives.

Professor Wendy Burn


Read the October eNewsletter >>>


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 Wendy Burn


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.