Professor Sir Simon Wessely
Professor Wessely was president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists from 2014 to 2017
Simon Wessely studied medicine and history of art at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, and finished his medical training at University College Oxford, graduating in 1981. He obtained his medical membership in Newcastle, before moving to London to train in psychiatry at the Maudsley. He spent a year at the National Hospital for Neurology as a Specialist Registrar, returning to Camberwell as a consultant liaison psychiatrist at King’s College Hospital in 1991. However, his main career had already started in academic psychiatry, obtaining a Wellcome Training Fellowship leading to a Masters and Doctorate degree in Epidemiology.
His research career began with his first paper in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in 1985 called “Dementia and Mrs Thatcher”, but since then he has published over 850 papers (H index 100), with a particular emphasis on the boundaries of medicine and psychiatry, unexplained symptoms and syndromes, military health, population reactions to adversity, and epidemiology, but drifting into lots of other areas as well as the opportunity or mood takes him.
His interest in unexplained symptoms and syndromes led him to starting research into the so called “Gulf War Syndrome” in the mid 1990s, which confirmed that there was a health problem associated with service in the 1991 Gulf War, albeit no unique syndrome. This began a log associated with the UK Armed Forces. Since 2001 he has been Civilian Consultant Advisor in Psychiatry to the British Army since 2001. He founded the King’s Centre for Military Health Research which celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2021. Two recent citation analyses revealed he was the most published current researcher on military health and has direct impacts on the health and wellbeing of the UK Armed Forces, past and present and on forms of treatment and help for serving and ex serving personnel.
He was President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists between 2014 and 2017, during which time his principal achievement was transforming the College’s communications structure, which more than doubled its public, parliamentary and media reach. which paved the way for the successful Choose Psychiatry programme. He also set up the Independent Commission on Acute Care, recruited Lord Crisp as independent Chair, got its 2016 recommendations incorporated into the Five Year Forward View. He also fulfilled a rash campaign promise to talk to students on the benefits of psychiatry at every UK medical school, forgetting that there were by this 38 of them.
On stepping down from the Royal College he became the first psychiatrist to be President of the Royal Society of Medicine in its 200 year history. He was also asked to lead the Independent Review of the Mental Health Act, landing the review successfully in 2018, with its main recommendations accepted, and a White Paper published at the start of 2021.
In 2012 he was awarded the first Nature “John Maddox Prize” for Standing Up for Science and was knighted in 2013 for services to Psychological Medicine and Military Health. In 2016 ten new Chairs were created as part of the Diamond Jubilee after nationwide competition – Simon became the first Regius Chair at King’s and first Regius Chair in Psychiatry anywhere.
He became the country’s first Regius Chair of Psychiatry in 2017. He has honorary fellowships or doctorates from his original Oxbridge Colleges, other Royal Colleges, and the Universities of Exeter, Sheffield and Oxford. He was a trustee of Combat Stress for many years, and his contributions to veterans’ charities include cycling (slowly) eight times to Paris to raise funds for the Royal British Legion. He is currently a member of the Judicial Appointments Commissions
He is active in public engagement activities, speaking regularly on radio, TV and at literary and science festivals. – he has sometimes said that if he had his time again he would always have chosen psychiatry, but either history or journalism would have been alternatives.
His wife, now Dame Clare Gerada, is a prominent general practitioner, and was Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) from 2011 to 2014, stepping down just before Simon was elected President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. Fortunately, everyone says that their two children have turned out remarkably normal.
But in the end his favourite occupations remain talking about psychiatry, watching Chelsea Football Club and arguing in cafes. Most of these are difficult at the time of writing (Jan 2021) but he looks forward to their return.