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

In Praise of Old Nick: In which our treasured Treasurer invites you to see the treasures of our Congress

In writing these blogs I rarely stray far from the subject of money and this is no exception.  For once I am not about to bang on again about ‘where is it’ – those promised millions, nay billions, set to transform mental health services. In case you are wondering, apparently they are coming.  But not today. Or next year.  Perhaps the year after that.  Who knows? No, I am talking about your money; about what we do with the money you pay the College.

The way the College works is that we have four officers, all of them elected by you.  There’s the Dean, who does the education side.  There’s the Registrar, who does the policy and most things.  Then the President, who takes the credit for everything done by everyone else.  And finally, the Treasurer. The Treasurer’s role is probably the least visible, dealing with the money, and only getting the limelight when we run out of it.

So when it goes well, the Treasurer is an unsung hero.  So I want to do a bit of singing for once.  Our current Treasurer, Nick Craddock, steps down next month after five years in office. We will also be saying goodbye to Wendy Burn, our Dean, but more of her anon.  For the moment let’s stick with the money.

Nick has been an astonishing success.  During his five years in office both our fixed assets and general reserves have increased.  So have our membership fees; but by a grand total of £7 over five years.  And the examination fees have dropped by 21%.  That’s an economic record that George Osborne would weep for.  Of course it’s not just Nick – there are many people responsible for this, especially our finance director, Paddy and CEO, Vanessa – but it’s worth celebrating.

But there is one more statistic.  Over the last five years the prices we charge for you to attend the annual Congress have reduced by 30%.  But the opposite is true of the quality. It is going up and up.  Improving quality but reducing cost is the Holy Grail of NHS England and every CCG – and we have managed it. Normally you can do one or the other, but not both.  And as a result, we already know that this Congress will be the best attended ever. And as Nick is a key part of the Organising Committee of the Congress, he can take a bow now.

Which brings me to the subject of the Congress.  We start on a high note – with a neuroscience key note from our most recent Nobel Laureate, Sir John O’Keefe. But things don’t go downhill from there, just the opposite.  I doubt that John Sweeney will be covering much science later in the day – best to leave that to Sir John  - but he is covering the opposite; the Scientologists.  Sparks will fly – not literally we hope, but I have to warn you that when we say you will need your conference badges to gain admission, we mean it.

We will continue the recent tradition of attracting speakers from outside psychiatry – am particularly pleased that Sebastian Faulks is going to talk about psychiatry in his novels  (trust me, there’s a lot of it).  Carol Morley will be screening “The Falling”.  David Halpern will be nudging us along.  Of course we also have our own star turns, Jim Van Os, Vik Patel and Dilip Jeste as well as the very best of psychology, with Trevor Robbins, Sarah Jayne Blakemore, Essi Viding and others. From the charity sector comes Paul Farmer, CEO of Mind, the TaskForce, Mastermind and one of our latest Honorary Fellows.

Throughout the Congress the theme of recruitment and retention will be much in evidence.  Plenty of students and trainees will be around and lots of sessions focus on them – please try and attend at least one.   Indulge me when I mention one trainee social worker – a fellow called Ben Wessely -giving his first ever paper.  I cross my heart and swear that this was news to me; I choked on my porridge when I read the programme.

So many highlights.  Education and training will be prominent.  Try and listen to Wendy Burn and Nick Craddock introducing our new curriculum project and I am delighted to be able to announce today that although Wendy steps down as Dean, we won’t be seeing the back of her as she will be cochairing our Gatsby/Wellcome Neuroscience Commission, alongside Mike Travis, once of this parish but now a guru of psychiatric education in Pittsburgh.

Carson and Stone, our psychiatric Laurel and neurological Hardy will be doing their double act as usual – Science will always be on the agenda – if you haven’t yet take a look at our Making an Impact display; useful ammunition for the pub bore who tells you that “you psychiatrists are all very well, but you don’t ever change anything – you just aren’t proper scientists”.  Stuff and nonsense.  Meanwhile, modern psychopharmacology is one of the themes of the conference.

Our Congress, like psychiatry itself, never shies away from controversy – we embrace it. So we will have sessions on transgender, discrimination, parity, social justice, the politics of addiction and radicalisation.  We will be trendy (“Big Data”); topical (“Policy Lab”); practical (“How to Peer Review); complicated (lots of sessions starting with the word “complex”); tiring (“Sleep Disorders); sustainable (“Chris Ham”) and optimistic about the future (“Pathfinders”). And there will also be the incomprehensible “Tron Goes Gleek”.  Gleek?  Nope, no idea either.

Conferences should also be fun.  We will have our traditional Shakespearean Debate – this time Romeo and Juliet will be in the dock.  Comedy may be entirely absent though when I interview Jo Brand on “Comedy, showbiz and other mental disorders” in what may become a classic car crash moment.  Christopher Wren will look down on our gala dinner in the Painted Hall at Greenwich – a truly spectacular setting.

Psychiatrists always respect the past.  So many of our Past Presidents will be much in evidence. And one of our most crowded sessions,  “What I have learned in my career as a psychiatrist”, otherwise known as “Grumpy Old Men and Women”, Desert Island Discs without the music, will be back by popular demand.

And such is our generosity, we don’t want to keep this embarrassment of riches to ourselves.  Our new Director of Comms, Kim Catcheside, will be explaining the art of getting the message across and our Twitterati get their own session to help you do this.

But to end on a sober note. I hope you will all take a little time out from the fun, excitement and stimulation to spend a private and possibly, emotional, moment at the Exhibition.

I look forward to seeing as many of you as possible during the Congress.

Professor Sir Simon Wessely

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Re: In Praise of Old Nick: In
Awesome news! Thanks for all your hard work!
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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.