The Royal College of Psychiatrists (1971–)

The history of the Royal College of Psychiatrists
21 Prescot Street, London
The Royal College of Psychiatrists HQ, 21 Prescot St London

The idea of forming a Royal College of Psychiatrists goes as far back as the 1950s, but it was only in 1964 that Council decided to set up the Petition Committee, which was tasked with starting negotiations with the Privy Council. The Association of Psychiatrists in Training (APIT) and the Society of Clinical Psychiatrists played important roles in lobbying for Royal College status.

In 1971 the Royal Medico-Psychological Association was granted a Supplemental Charter and became the Royal College of Psychiatrists. The three main aims and objectives of the College according to its Charter are teaching, research and public education. The College has endeavoured to achieve these over the years, including through publishing books, academic journals, and other educational material.

The College moved into 17 Belgrave Square, London SW1, in 1974. The new premises allowed the College to expand its work to better fulfil its objectives. The College moved to its current premises at 21 Prescot Street, London E1 in 2013.

The College's work

Education and training

Early on, the College developed training schemes for junior doctors wishing to specialise in psychiatry and take the MRCPsych examination. It established a system of inspection and accreditation of all training schemes and ensured a place for trainees in all College structures. The education of psychiatrists became the responsibility of the College. 

Research and quality improvement

The College’s Research Committee (originally, the Research and Clinical Committee, established 1927) undertook a major survey of ECT in 1978. The results led to ECT only being administered by properly trained and qualified staff. The Committee was also instrumental in the establishment of the Research Unit in 1989 through donations from members. Professor John Wing was the first director of the Unit.

The Research Unit has evolved into the College Centre for Quality Improvement (CCQI) and the National Collaborating Centre for Mental Health (NCCMH). The CCQI works with mental health services to improve standards of care for people with mental disorders. This is achieved through Quality Networks, Accreditation and National Clinical Audits. The NCCMH develops evidence-based guidance to support the delivery of high-quality mental health care.

Public education

Through its Public Education Committee, the College has been involved in several campaigns aimed at educating the public about mental health issues. In 1992, the College, in collaboration with the Royal College of General Practitioners, launched its first public education campaign called `Defeat Depression’. This resulted in an increase in the early detection of depression by general practitioners in this country. The second campaign, 'Changing Minds: Every Family in the Land', launched in 1998, tackled stigma.  The 'Partners in Care' campaign followed (2004–2005), conducted jointly with The Princess Royal Trust for Carers. The `Fair Deal Campaign’, mainly concerned with parity of esteem, was launched in 2010.

Since 1985 the College has produced many prize-winning, evidence-based health mental health information leaflets and factsheets for the general public.

Journals and publications

The Asylum Journal

At the 1847 meeting of the Association held in Oxford, members first discussed the idea of publishing a journal about mental health and psychology. At the seventh annual meeting in 1853 the Asylum Journal was established, renamed the Asylum Journal of Mental Science in 1855, and then the Journal of Mental Science in 1858.  It retained this name until 1963 when it became the British Journal of Psychiatry

The College also publishes the BJPsych Bulletin. This was originally established as a sporadic memorandum under the heading Notes and News and then became the monthly News and Notes. Later it became the refereed journal Psychiatric Bulletin, and for a time was known as The Psychiatrist before taking its current title. 

Another journal, BJPsych Advances, was launched in 1994. This is a secondary research journal which publishes commissioned articles giving concise and clear overviews of carefully chosen subject areas in psychiatry. BJPsych International, previously known as International Psychiatry was established in 2003. This publication provides an overview of current policy and practice in psychiatry in different countries around the world. 

The College started publishing books in the 1970s under the Gaskell imprint in honour of Samuel Gaskell, one of the founding fathers of the Association of Medical Officers of Asylums and Hospitals for the Insane. In 2007 the College imprint changed from Gaskell to RCPsych Publications. In 2017 publications were taken over by Cambridge University Press.

Excellence and diversity

In 2008 the College elected its first Asian president, Professor Dinesh Bhugra. In 2009 the College introduced the RCPsych Awards, an annual event to celebrate the best and brightest individuals and teams in the fields of psychiatry and mental health. In 2016 Professor Femi Oyebode became the first black psychiatrist to be awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award.

  • 1971 – Professor Sir Martin Roth is elected the first president of the College
  • 1974 – The College moves into 17 Belgrave Square
  • 1978 – The Research Committee conducts a survey into the use of ECT
  • 1983 – The passing of the Mental Health Act. The College played an important role in influencing the Government (Professor Robert Bluglass and Dr Tony Zigmond represented the College)
  • 1985 – The College begins producing the mental health information leaflets and factsheets.
  • 1985 – The College establishes the Natalie Cobbing Fellowship (Natalie Cobbing was the first Secretary of the RMPA and the College from 1958 until her death in 1984)
  • 1987 – The College Research Unit is established under the directorship of Professor John Wing.
  • 1991 – The College celebrates 150 years
  • 1992 – The College launches its first public education campaign in collaboration with the Royal College of General Practitioners – the Defeat Depression Campaign.
  • 1993Professor Fiona Caldicott is elected the first female president of the College
  • 1994Advances in Psychiatric Treatment Journal is established
  • 1995 – Scottish Division Office is opened and is housed in the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh offices.
  • 1997 – The College launces the Changing Minds – Stigma Campaign
  • 2000 – The RCPsych Council decides to create International Divisions based on the WHO geographical divisions.
  • 2003International Psychiatry Journal established
  • 2003 – The `Partners in Care’ a Public Education Committee campaign is launched
  • 2008Professor Dinesh Bhugra elected the first Asian president of the College
  • 2009 – The RCPsych Awards are established
  • 2013 – The College moves into 21 Prescot Street its present accommodation
  • 2016Vanessa Cameron, the second Secretary (Chief Executive) retires after 33 years of service to the College and is replaced by Paul Rees.
  • 2016 – Professor Femi Oyebode is the first black member of the College to be presented with the RCPsych Lifetime Achievement Award
  • 2017 – The College launches the Choose Psychiatry campaign.
  • 2023 - Paul Rees MBE steps down as CEO after six years in the role, during which he helped transform the College into an award-winning, values-based organisation.
  • 2024 - Sonia Walter is appointed as the College's new CEO.
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